Just 10 minutes after arriving at her pediatrician’s office, Brea was whisked away by an ambulance to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The 7-month-old girl was lethargic, unable to move. Something was very wrong.
Brea’s mother, Ericka, thought her daughter was fighting an infection and scheduled an appointment with her pediatrician.
“We thought we’d just go to the doctor and she would get antibiotics and get better,” says Ericka. “We knew it was serious when they said we had to go to Cincinnati Children’s right away.”
But Brea didn’t have a simple infection. Instead she was suffering from hydrocephalus, a serious condition her parents knew nothing about.
A Healthy Beginning
For the first six months of her life, Brea’s growth and development were on track. Her pediatrician appointments showed that she was a healthy, happy baby. But just seven months after birth, her parents noticed a marked change in her.
“All of a sudden, she couldn’t do things – the milestones she had already met. We put her on the bed one day and she couldn’t roll over. She couldn’t hold her head up,” says Brea’s dad, Aubrey.
After they arrived at Cincinnati Children’s, they learned Brea had hydrocephalus. The condition causes the buildup of fluid on the brain, which can increase pressure in the head.
“A few of our friends said they thought it looked like her head was getting bigger,” Ericka says. “Looking back at pictures of her, you can really see a difference. But at the time, we couldn’t tell because we saw her every day.”
The doctors helped educate the family and talked to them about their options. Together, Brea’s parents and her doctors decided the best course of treatment, and it needed to happen fast. The surgery was scheduled for the following morning.
The treatment chosen for Brea was to place a shunt, or catheter, through her skull. The catheter is connected to a pressure valve that regulates the amount of spinal fluid drainage. Another long, thin tube is attached to the valve. This tube drains excess fluid back into her body.
A Serious Condition
Hydrocephalus happens in just one or two births out of 1,000. It occurs when the brain cannot absorb the amount of spinal fluid produced each day. A child may be born with this condition, but it can happen to a person at any age.
Early treatment is key for patients with hydrocephalus. The more cerebrospinal fluid that builds up, the greater the pressure on the brain. When there is greater pressure, it can lead to more severe developmental disabilities, as well as problems with vision and hearing.
In the Best Hands
Aubrey and Ericka found solace in coming to Cincinnati Children’s.
“When we talked to our friends and family, they would always say how it was good for us to be in Cincinnati, because there are so many experts in neurosurgery,” Aubrey says.
Ericka says Brea was treated by the best doctors available. “We are so thankful to be just 15 minutes from Cincinnati Children’s. The staff cared not just for Brea, but for us as parents too.” They say they received compassionate care from everyone from doctors, to nurses to those working in the cafeteria.
Brea’s surgery to place the shunt was a success, but her journey was not over. Children with hydrocephalus are at risk for learning disabilities and loss of vision or hearing. Brea and her family needed follow-up care at Cincinnati Children’s to make sure she was growing and developing properly.
“After her surgery, she had to relearn everything. That put her a little behind on walking,” Aubrey says. “We had friends whose children were about the same age, and they started walking about three months before her, but she received several months of physical therapy and since then, there have been no set-backs.”
Brea continues to see the neurosurgery team at Cincinnati Children’s for follow-up care. But the 4-year-old shows no signs of physical or learning disabilities.
Her parents say Brea is blossoming. She’s a voracious learner, having already mastered colors in both English and Spanish. She enjoys doing puzzles, dancing, singing in her church choir, traveling with her parents and doing gymnastics.
Brea has no memory of her rough beginning, but a reminder of her journey is evident. Her friends ask about the small bump on her head covered by her hair, and she talks to her parents about it.
Even with Brea’s successful treatment and continually positive follow-up visits to Cincinnati Children’s, her parents say they still think about her condition a lot. She will have a shunt for the rest of her life.
Ericka and Aubrey say they always think about Brea’s condition and her health, but for any family that faces a diagnosis of hydrocephalus, the most important thing to do is keep the faith.
“We saw a lot of information about what could go wrong, even after the surgery,” Ericka says. “But we are so blessed that she didn’t have any of those problems. We never lost faith and we are so thankful for what we do have.”
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