"I feel like I have a new life."
Ann, an avid gardener, is a 64-year-old woman who received a CODMAN® Programmable Valve in August 2004. The new valve replaced a fixed pressure valve she received in 1994 when she was diagnosed with NPH at the age of 54.
Ann's medical history includes major head trauma at age 34 in 1974 when she was thrown off a horse and her head struck several rocks. An active young paralegal, she was treated at the hospital for brain hemorrhage and concussions. Good doctors, she said, saved her life and gave her a "profound respect for what can be done in medicine."
Ann moved to Texas and went to college, all the while raising two young children. "I loved life and had gained a great appreciation for it," she said.
Having completed her degree in English at Angelo State University, Ann moved back to the Washington, DC area and in 1978 began working as an administrative assistant and office supervisor on Capital Hill. "I recognized that people have a responsibility to each other," she explained. She had no more major health problems for many years. In 1990 Ann married a retired member of the Marine Corps who worked for the government.
In 1993 Ann was involved in a terrible car accident. She suffered serious injuries to her neck, shoulders, and back, but the worst injuries were to her head. With traction and physical therapy, her obvious physical symptoms improved, but in the days and months following the accident her balance became unstable, she experienced double vision, and her memory declined. She went to see a neurologist who took an MRI and diagnosed her with dementia. Though stunned by the diagnosis, Ann had the presence of mind to take the MRI results with her.
When she arrived home that day Ann believed she had no future, and felt ready to give up on life. But later that afternoon, there was a phone call from her son that her fourth grandchild's birth was imminent. "That got me up out of my chair to do something," she said. Not wanting to think that life was over, Ann remembered the neurosurgeon who had cared for her after her accident nearly 20 years before.
At the Birthing Center to see her new grandchild, Ann stopped in at the Medical Staff office and inquired. She found out that this neurosurgeon was alive and well and still practicing neurosurgery. Ann took the MRI to him and he immediately recognized the signs of NPH. He ran a number of other tests to confirm the MRI results, diagnosed Ann with NPH, and explained the shunt treatment. Before surgery could take place, however, he retired. Another neurosurgeon took over the case and implanted the fixed pressure shunt in 1994.
Ann was the victim of two more car accidents in 1999 and 2001. After the second one, she immediately had severe pain in her head as well as neck, shoulder, and back injuries. Although these injuries healed over time, she suffered with continuing and worsening vision problems and memory loss. She was diagnosed with depression and a variety of disorders and prescribed many different kinds of medication. But she did not have another MRI.
Ann's symptoms got worse in the ensuing years. "I fell over a lot," she said, "and I could hardly even get around my garden." Extreme unbalance meant that Ann couldn't walk without assistance, her double vision recurred, and "I couldn't think my way out of a paper bag."
After a number of unassociated health problems sidelined her, in spring 2004 Ann was finally able to make an appointment with the neurosurgeon who performed her shunt surgery. Four days before the appointment Ann suddenly got a terrible pain in her head where the shunt was. There was a bulge over the tube leading away from the shunt.
The neurosurgeon found that the original shunt and tubing had disconnected and were not functioning, and recommended the CODMAN Programmable Valve. He explained that the programmable valve allows a surgeon to change the pressure, when necessary, without surgery. "I'm amazed to think they could put something in you that could be controlled from outside," Ann said. The valve produced immediate results - the terrible head pain disappeared, Ann's thoughts were clear, and her balance problems were gone. The flow was adjusted in the fall of 2004.
Ann no longer has any signs of depression. Recently she was in the garden tending to her flowers and thinking how very different her life would be at this moment without the care and treatment she received. "I do everything!" she states. "I'm back to gardening. I feel like I have a new life."
While most experts say that approximately 375,000 people have NPH, estimates have ranged from about 200,000 to 750,000 cases of NPH. Hospital discharge data shows that only about 11,500 cases a year are currently diagnosed and treated with surgical implantation of a shunt. Since NPH is often mistaken for other conditions, most cases of NPH go unreported and many are left untreated. Only a specialist can properly diagnose NPH. Surgery is not for everyone. There are potential risks and complications; recovery may take time.DSUS/COD/1014/0194