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 contracting the enterovirus from a nurse in the delivery room.  The enterovirus lives in the digestive tract.  It’s believed I caught the enterovirus after a nurse in the delivery room failed to wash her hands properly after changing another infant’s diaper.  With the underdeveloped immune system of an infant, the enterovirus for me caused viral meningitis.  My case of meningitis damaged the membranes covering my brain. These membranes, the meninges, regulate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the 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 effects of hydrocephalus.  The basic management of hydrocephalus hasn’t changed since the 1960s.