Hydrocephalus Awareness Month

September is Hydrocephalus Awareness Month.

For those who don’t know, my daughter Little Miss Minion was born at 28 weeks. While in the NICU, she developed an infection that led to meningitis and sepsis. As a result of the meningitis, she developed a condition called hydrocephalus.

Several weeks after she was out of the woods from her infection and complications, I remember getting a message from the charge nurse one day when I was at work that said they had done a scan (they did brain scans periodically to make sure she didn’t have a brain bleed, another complication of premature birth) and the scan had revealed enlarged ventricles. Of course, I immediately googled enlarged ventricles and found articles about kids dying in Africa with heads the size of watermelons. Needless to say, I hightailed it to the NICU to find out what was going on with my baby. They told us that a specialist was coming to talk to us about our options. I was convinced that there was a strong chance that LMM would end up like those kids in Africa.

The specialist they sent turned out to be an incredibly talented neurosurgeon from a nearby Children’s Hospital. There aren’t many pediatric neurosurgeons in the country, and there were none in the medical system we used. That’s a story for a different day.

The neurosurgeon explained that LMM had something called hydrocephalus. He told us that, because of the illnesses she had overcome, her brain had become damaged and was no longer draining itself the way it should. He told us about cerebrospinal fluid and how your brain creates this liquid inside areas called ventricles. How something happened inside LMM’s brain and the liquid wasn’t draining. Instead of flowing around her brain and being reabsorbed, it was pooling and building up, putting pressure on her brain.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, he went on to explain that the only way to fix this problem was to surgically implant a device called a shunt. There would be a small tube placed inside one of her ventricles that would drain the extra fluid into a pocket near her stomach, where it would be reabsorbed.

Her first shunt surgery took place when she was about eight weeks old and weighed around 4 pounds. Since then, she’s had four more surgeries.

The only experience I had with hydrocephalus was watching a Disney Channel movie starring Frankie Muniz called Miracle in Lane Two. It’s about a kid who wants to race these Build It Yourself race cars. The kid has spina bifida, and uses a wheelchair to get around. He also has hydrocephalus, and has a shunt malfunction during the plot of the movie. Having this as my baseline knowledge, combined with the terms “brain damage” and “brain surgery” plus the fact that no one could tell us what this diagnosis meant for LMM, we were incredibly worried for her.

Luckily, the brain damage was minimal (as seen on multiple MRIs) and it appears that her brain simply went around those areas to make new connections. We won’t know for sure, so we just have to wait and see if she starts having trouble later.

If you’ve stumbled on this blog by searching hydrocephalus, I want to tell you that you aren’t alone. Also, don’t google it. 🙂

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