TheRutabaga- Brain drain: Persistent water debate leads to rare disorder
The cause of a recent case of hydrocephalus, more commonly known as "water of the brain," has doctors at the UVA Department of Neurology scratching their heads.
Charlottesville resident Betty Bowers says her husband's intense headaches started three years ago, until he finally had to quit his job as a plumber last January. Since then, she says, he has remained mostly bed-ridden, rising only to attend meetings concerning the hotly debated water supply plan.
"He's been torn up by that water debate," says Betty Bowers, "He dreams about water, always has–- 'cause of his job."
Three months ago, Bowers says she noticed that her husband's head had begun to swell. "His Redskins cap wouldn't fit him no more," she says.
Concerned, Mrs. Bowers finally contacted renowned UVA neurosurgeon Dr. Nuri Vestibole, who discovered that Franklin P. Bowers was suffering from a very unusual case of hydrocephalus.
"Mr. Bowers had suffered no recent injury, stroke, or illness that normally causes hydrocephalus," says Dr.Vestibole, "but there was a definite excess of fluid in his brain, enlarging his ventricles and pressing against the skull. Much like a dam that has burst but where the water has nowhere to go."
"I told him all that thinkin' and worrin' about our water supply had gone straight to his head," said Betty. "But did he listen?"
Dr.Vestibole surgically inserted shunts in Mr. Bowers' head to drain the fluid and reduce the pressure, but found the fluid was thick with a silt-like substance that prevented it from flowing freely through the shunt valves.
"A kind of sediment had formed in Mr. Bowers' brain, and we had to sift it out using a neuro-vacuuming device; but once we did that, we noted a marked increase in the volume of the fluid draining from Mr. Bowers' head," says Dr.Vestibole. "However, neuro-vacuuming wasn't enough to increase the capacity to the required level."
Dr.Vestibole and his team had to insert a tube in Mr. Bowers' brain and pump fluid from the lower areas of his skull to a ventricle at the top of his skull, creating a kind of reservoir there. To increase the pressure of the flow, and to control the speed at which fluid was released, a kind of synthetic barrier–- or dam–- was constructed.
Dr.Vestibole's experimental procedure worked, but just days after the shunts were removed a peculiar thing happened: Bower's brain began to immediately refill with fluid again.
"Our fluid dispersal plan and procedure was widely seen as the the best possible solution, but sometimes the answer lies in a completely new way of thinking," said Dr.Vestibole.
As Dr.Vestibole explained, the psychological trauma that Bowers experienced may have manifested itself as a physical condition, which was mirroring the the aspects of the water debate in the form of a neurological condition. "There's no other way to explain where all that fluid was coming from," he says.
So is there a cure?
"Mr. Bowers' condition is so far advanced that I'm afraid that only an external solution to the water issue will cure him," says Dr.Vestibole. "Until then, I believe the condition will essentially hold Mr. Bowers' brain hostage."
Meanwhile, Franklin Bowers must continue to see Dr.Vestibole to drain the fluid in his head when ever it builds up, essentially repeating the damming and silt-removing procedure each time. Over time, Dr.Vestibole warns, there could be a risk of brain damage if common sense doesn't prevail.
"Of course, he could always move to Lynchburg," Dr.Vestibole suggests.