I’m Having Brain Surgery on Tuesday. What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus cases were regularly described by Hippocrates, Galen, and early and medieval Arabian physicians. Hydrocephalus occurs when too much cerebral spinal fluid builds up in the brain and causing it to swell. There is no cure for hydrocephalus, it can only be managed.

Successful treatment for hydrocephalus didn’t occur until the mid-1950s, when a father-physician team invented the Spitz-Halter valve. Designs of valves used to treat hydrocephalus have changed little since then.

A neurosurgeon inserts a one-way valve and connecting catheter to drain cerebral spinal fluid from the brain to another part of the body. The CSF can then be absorbed by the body and recycled. If not managed successfully, brain damage can occur as a result of pressure being placed on the brain due to the fluid buildup. The pressure build-up may lead to developmental, physical, and intellectual impairments. If not treated at all, hydrocephalus results in death.I acquired hydrocephalus after being born with viral meningitis. My case of meningitis damaged the membranes covering my brain. These membranes, the meninges, regulate the flow of cerebral spinal fluid throughout ones central nervous system. My brain was now unable to perform this process naturally. My first neurosurgeon advised my parents the only way to prevent my death was to have a valve (or shunt as they are often called) placed in my brain.  

The most common pediatric brain surgery today, involves the placement of a shunt to manage hydrocephalus. One in six-hundred babies born in the USA today has hydrocephalus. There are more than one million people living in the USA today dealing with the affects of hydrocephalus.

I’m part of the First Generation of infants born between 1955 and 1972 to survive to adulthood. However, for the past sixty years the First Generation has suffered both visible and invisible disabilities, as well as countless complications and brain surgeries.