Friday, March 22, 2013

Media views on Hydrocephalus: Roald and Theo Dahl

This is my third "media views on Hydrocephalus" post. It fits well into the original subject that I had chosen for my blog, and my previous posts on the subject are the ones that are most often searched for on Google, according to my blog stats. I have a number of people I've been planning on writing about, and someone had searched for something similar and ended up reading at least one of my posts this week. So if it's searched again, I want this post to be seen. Hopefully it's exactly what someone is looking for.

Roald Dahl was an author more commonly known as a Children's author, but he also wrote adult fiction and non-fiction, screenplays, short stories and also wrote for television. Some of his children's books included James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. Some of the screenplays he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Some television shows he worked on includes Way Out, which was similar to Twilight Zone and several Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Dahl was married to Patricia Neal, he had five children. In December 1960, his middle child and only son Theo's son's baby carriage was struck by a taxi. This resulted in him developing Hydrocephalus. At the time there were shunts available for treatment, but it was a very new technology. At the time the shunts had a much higher failure rate than it does today (and currently half of all shunts fail during the first two years).It also had a higher chance of resulting brain damage if they not replaced right away.

In Theo's case his shunt had blocked six times in nine months. Each time he would go temporally blind and they were never sure that his vision would come back after each revision, or how much brain damage had been done. 

This inspired Dahl to develop a new shunt other than the Holter shunt that had been used for a few years at the time, and was the first successful shunt. During the next couple years with the help of Toy Creator, Stanley Wade he would succeed in the development of a new shunt. The main differences between his and the previous shunt was that the shunt wouldn't touch the brain during the placement reducing the risk of cerebral debris getting in and steel discs, which gave the shunt a wider area to drain the fluid.

By the time the shunt was Developed Theo no longer needed a shunt, but for the next couple years after (1962-1964) Dahl's shunt was used in two to three thousand children worldwide. This was Dahl's first major influence in medicine, but not his last. After his daughter died from measles encephalitis, he became an advocate for immunization. Then after Patricia Neal had a series of strokes, he created his own rehab treatment to help her recover.

I've been looking forward to writing about Dahl and his son more than authors, because of my childhood interest in him that in a way continues on into today. My third grade teacher had us read many of his books, At least six of his them that I can remember. We watched at least a few of the movies that was based on his books as well, and then I saw another in the theaters when it came out the year after I was in his class (James and the Giant Peach). I knew very little about Dahl himself at the time, but it's interesting to me now that the author that wrote all those books helped developed a medical device that has kept me alive the whole time. Thanks for reading; I plan on writing more "media views on Hydrocephalus" posts in the near future. But I'll be including some others and more guest blogs from my friend Keyt.


  1. What an amazing story!!!I also have a shunt...(it is however Holter-Hausner VP Shunt......medium pressure,triple- valve....that one I speak of is now almost 30 years old.It is great to see so many being able to communicate..about Hydrocephalus.....maybe we can swap stories some time...

    1. Mine is 25 years old,don't know the type.Are you on any social networking sites?

  2. Oh wow, I did not know this at all! Thank you for this information, most interesting. Loved his books when I was a kid and now I can love his help with the invention of a more modern shunt!

  3. 33 years with this one, come August 21! I still can't believe it myself! :) Love this hard to believe he and Patricia Neal split up after all of that!