As I read through the new NRP recommendations and began posting interesting points on my Facebook Page I came across a section which has left me a little uneasy. With respect to a newborn 36 weeks and above who is born asystolic and by ten minutes of age continues to remain so and has an apgar score of zero the recommendation that has been put forward is this:
An Apgar score of 0 at 10 minutes is a strong predictor of mortality and morbidity in late-preterm and term infants. We suggest that, in babies with an Apgar score of 0 after 10 minutes of resuscitation, if the heart rate remains undetectable, it may be reasonable to stop resuscitation; however, the decision to continue or discontinue resuscitative efforts should be individualized. Variables to be considered may include whether the resuscitation was considered to be optimal, availability of advanced neonatal care, such as therapeutic hypothermia, specific circumstances before delivery (eg, known timing of the insult), and wishes expressed by the family (weak recommendation, very-low-quality evidence).
There are some significant problems with this part of the statement.
- They claim that the apgar score at ten minutes is a strong predictor but when you look at the analysis of the evidence presented in the body of the paper it is weak at best. I am not clear how one declares the prediction is strong in the face of poor evidence but I will acknowledge intuitively that this makes some sense but do challenge them on the use of the word “strong”.
2. They are correct in acknowledging that the introduction of hypothermia in such settings has changed the landscape in as much as I find it quite difficult to prognosticate unless a child is truly moribund after resuscitation. Given such uncertainty it is concerning to me that this recommendation may be committed to memory incorrectly in some places that do have access to cooling and may be used more rigidly as though shalt stop at 10 minutes.
3. In the middle of a resuscitation it is quite difficult to process all of the facts pertaining to a particular newborn while orders for chest compressions, emergency UVCs and epinephrine are being given. Can we really individualize within ten minutes accurately and take the families wishes truly into account? This just does not seem practical.
4. The families wishes are taken into account but inserted as a “weak recommendation”. How can the wishes of the family in any family centred model of care be minimized in such a way even if we believe the situation to be dire?
5. Since the introduction of hypothermia there appears to be a near 50% survival rate in such newborns and as the authors state 27% of survivors who received cooling had no moderate or severe disability. Here in lies my greatest issue with this guideline and that is the hypocrisy this position takes when you compare populations at 23 and 24 weeks gestational age. Survival at these GA in the recent NEJM study of almost 5000 preterm infants under 27 weeks were 33 and 57 % respectively at 23 & 24 weeks with rates of survival without moderate or severe disability being 16 and 31% in the two groups. The fallout from this and other studies at the extremes of gestational age have been that we should be more aggressive as the outcomes are not as bad as one would predict. How can we argue this for the 23-24 week infants and for term infant with the same likelihood of outcomes we would unilaterally stop in many centres?!
So Now What Do We Do?
We are supposed to be practising family centred care and much like the argument at the edge of viability the same should apply here. The wishes of the family should never be minimized. Arguably it may be very difficult in such an unexpected scenario to appraise a family of the situation and have clarity around the issue but if a heart rate can be restored after a few more minutes do we not owe it to the family and the child to bring the infant back to the NICU and see what transpires especially if cooling is available?
The million dollar question of course is where do we draw the line? No heart rate at 15, 20 minutes? Based on the evidence thus far it seems to me that a little longer than 10 minutes is reasonable especially in well equipped centres with access to cooling and modern ventilation and treatments for pulmonary hypertension. How long though must be individualized and should be determined in partnership with the team caring for the patient which must include the family.