At birth I endured a brain hemorrhage. This formed into a blood clot. The blood clot prevented the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) from flowing which caused me to be Hydrocephalic. When I was six weeks old a neurosurgeon placed a Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt (V.P. Shunt) into the right ventricle of my brain to drain the CSF into the abdominal cavity to be reabsorbed. A valve on the shunt controls the CSF flow.
Living with a shunt has given me some limitations but overall I have been able to live a fairly normal life. The only side effects of the brain hemorrhage were damage to my eyes, difficulty with short term memory and a minor learning disability. As a child I had to avoid contact sports, treat all illnesses immediately and refrain from roller coasters. I used to have debilitating headaches while being in high elevations but with the new technology of shunts that is no longer an issue. As an adult I have less headaches but more pain near the valve in the back of my head due to nerve damage from one of the surgeries. Sometimes it feels like the tube is poking me in a places. Also I have to deal with the irritation of scar tissue that has build up over the years.
So far I have had ten shunt related surgeries and two eyes surgeries. The shunt has been completely replaced twice. The main problem I've had throughout the years has been calcification and disconnection of the tubing. Being a foreign object, your body eats away at it every day. In my experience the tubing lasts an average of five years. Once the shunt over-drained and my neurosurgeon replaced it with a new type of shunt that has a magnet over the valve. Now the valve can be adjusted through my skull by means of a magnet. Essentially this will decrease the amount of future surgeries that may be needed.
After ten shunt surgeries I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on signs of malfunction. Excruciating headaches come on first followed by lethargy, vomiting, and at times changes in vision. More often than not the headaches will increase when I lay flat. When the shunt over-drained I had pounding headaches every single time I stood up. They were extremely intense and made me nauseous. Since it was so unlike my regular malfunction systems it took me several months to figure out what was wrong. If I start having any symptoms of a malfunction I wait a week or so to see if they subside on their own before I contact my neurosurgeon.
Besides the physical pain of malfunction and surgery I have to deal with the emotional trauma. On two occasions my shunt malfunctioned but the ventricles did not enlarge which made the surgeries extremely risky. Every time the surgeon has to go into the brain there is a chance of brain damage or possibly death as I was told in 1998. Also with each surgery there is a chance of infection which would cause another surgery to completely replace the shunt. Sometimes this condition can be overwhelming but I always manage to get through it and feel so much better after each revision.
If I didn't have the shunt I don't think I would be who I am today. I appreciate everything in life and never take anything for granted. I hope to live a long, healthy life. Having a shunt is rare these days. Hopefully more shunted people will be open to talk about their experiences and bring awareness into this world.