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9 Famous People with Hydrocephalus: Thriving in Their Lives and Careers 

Hydrocephalus is a serious condition that can affect anyone, but it’s quite common among newborns. The condition affects 1-to-2 babies in every 1,000 births. It’s characterized by abnormal buildup of fluid in the brain’s ventricles. This can result in the ventricles widening and putting pressure on the brain.

The excess fluid can leave infants with a large head (or bulging fontanel—the soft spot on the top of the head) which can be quite dangerous, especially if it’s not detected early.

Common causes of the condition in infants include congenital defects at birth, maternal infection during pregnancy, and premature death. In adults, the condition can be caused by tumors, bacterial meningitis, and concussions.

Hydrocephalus can be quite dangerous as it can cause permanent brain damage, severe disability, and even death if not treated. In fact, over 50% of the people who fail to get treated have died. The other half have had to opt for surgical treatments, which include Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt and Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV).

The former involves inserting a tube that inverts brain CSF to the abdomen where it can be absorbed while the latter is a minimally invasive alternative that eliminates the need for a shunt.

Here is a list of famous people who have had surgical treatments (shunts or ETVs) and continue to excel in their personal lives and careers.

1. Sherman Alexie

Alexie was born with congenital hydrocephalus and had to undergo surgery before he was 1 year old. The procedure was successful and didn’t affect his learning ability, but it did leave him with some side effects including seizures. Despite the side effects, he did manage to become a published novelist, filmmaker, and screenwriter. His collection of short storiesThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” was adapted in a film titled “Smoke Signals.

2. Meggan Dawson-Farrell

The current holder of the Scottish T54 record of over 400m was born with hydrocephalus and spina bifida. These conditions made it hard for her to take part in sports until she was 14 years old. Meggan has learned how to live with the condition and even managed to become a popular T54 wheelchair athlete. She was even the 2012 Summer Paralympics torch bearer

3. Darren Jackson

The Scottish player was diagnosed with hydrocephalus in 1997 after moving from Hibernian to Celtic. Darren was Jansen Wim’s first signing, but he had to undergo a VP shunt surgery in September 1997. The surgery was successful as he was back playing after 3 months and even managed to win the League Cup and League that season.

4. George Visger

Visger got a concussion during the 1st quarter of a game in 1980 and still played the entire game. This resulted in him developing hydrocephalus. He had to undergo a VP shunt surgery in the 1981 season. 4 months later, he survived 2 more brain surgeries before retiring. After retiring he went back to school and became a wildlife biologist-environmental consultant in the 1990s. Visger has undergone 9 VP shunt procedures in his entire life.

5. Dena Schlosser

Schlosser became famous after she amputated the arms of her daughter, Margaret, in 2004. Unfortunately, her daughter died and she was caught, but later acquitted on grounds of insanity. But, did you know that she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus while young? She was diagnosed with the condition when she was 8 years old and has undergone 8 VP shunt surgeries. 

6. Olivia Maccoux

Unlike the other people in our list, Olivia has had to deal with headaches all her life. Olivia was diagnosed with hydrocephalus while young and has had to undergo 120 surgeries to deal with the condition. Despite the challenges, she does love playing soccer and she says that every time she is on the pitch the headaches go away. 

7. Danny Bonaduce

The Partridge Family star was diagnosed with hydrocephalus in 2013 and underwent a successful surgery in June 2023. Back in 2022, his sister said that he suffered from a mysterious ailment that made it hard for him to walk and after seeing over 100 doctors, he was diagnosed with this condition.

8. Penni Morey

Back in 2003, Penni started passing out and vomiting and was taken to the hospital. The doctors thought that she had the flu, but a CAT scan confirmed that she had a brain tumor that left her with hydrocephalus. She underwent surgery and the doctors placed a shunt to bypass her blocked ventricles.

Unfortunately, the 1st shunt failed and she had to undergo surgery within a month. The 2nd shunt dislodged when she was 15 years old leaving her with migraines. And since the doctors considered her hydrocephalus to be stable, they didn’t insert another shunt in her brain. But she was introduced to acetazolamides which help her deal with the migraines. 

9. Jeff Wilkinson

The 67 years old retired reporter was diagnosed with hydrocephalus in 1994. The condition forced him to change his goals in life and become a politician. He wanted to become a successful reporter, but the diagnosis made him realize that he was already a successful reporter who had interviewed 2 prime ministers.

Also Read:

Hydrocephalus is a fatal condition that has caused the death of thousands of people in the past. Everything changed in 1905 when the 1st VP shunt procedure was done and since then, many people have survived including the above personalities. Unfortunately, the shunt tends to dislodge with time and the above individuals have had to undergo a number of surgeries. Despite the condition, they have managed to live a normal life and succeeded in their careers.

Kenyalogue Contributor

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