Stories about: Hydrocephalus

A second chance for a baby with a life-threatening brain cyst

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hammond
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hammond

Other than being born a little early—at 37 weeks—everything started out fine for Liam Hammond. “He was a healthy baby, it was a healthy birth, and he was progressing and meeting his milestones,” says his mother Jennifer.

But at his 4-month-old check-up, “Something about his head looked different to me.”

Liam’s head circumference was normal, though, and he was in the same head-growth percentile as at his last visit. The pediatrician suggested Jennifer keep watching it.

Two weeks later, the family left for a seaside Memorial Day weekend vacation. “I was pretty sure his head was swelling,” Jennifer says. “No one else could really see it, but the distance from the top of his eyebrow to the top of his head looked wider. By Sunday evening, he was very fussy, and it seemed like the vein down the center of his forehead was more prominent.”

Jennifer and her husband decided to cut their weekend short, leaving Monday morning rather than evening. Jennifer noticed that the fontanelle at the top of Liam’s head—where the bones of his skull had not yet fused together—was no longer soft.

Hours later they arrived at their local hospital, which took a CT scan. “The emergency room doctor came in and looked as white as a ghost,” Jennifer recalls. “She said, ‘Your baby has a mass in his head.’ She had already arranged a transfer.”

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Children's doctor improves hydrocephalus treatment in Africa

For most Ugandan citizens, life can be difficult. A majority of the nation’s 28 million people live well bellow the poverty line with little access to quality health care. As a poverty-stricken nation with a birth rate four times higher than the United States, pediatric medical conditions like hydrocephalus, a fairly common condition, are a very serious concern.

Hydrocephalus is a build of fluid in the brain and causes cranial swelling

Hydrocephalus is a build up of fluid in the brain, which can lead to extreme enlargement of the head in infants, progressive brain damage, and eventual death as the baby grows older. In resource-poor countries like Uganda it’s commonly caused by neonatal infection. The condition is routinely corrected in many parts of the world with an operation and post surgery monitoring, but in Uganda that level of care is hard to come by, resulting in thousands of preventable deaths for the disease.

It’s a daunting problem, but Benjamin Warf, MD, director of Neonatal and Congenital Anomalies Neurosurgery in the Department of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital Boston, has developed an innovative surgical technique that has been successful in decreasing the number of hydrocephalus deaths in developing countries like Uganda.

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