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Hydrocephalus / Shunt Surgery
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Hydrocephalus / Shunt Surgery

My father had a shunt surgery on Tuesday 9/28 for hydrocephalus. He had been suffering the symptoms of hydrocephalus for quite a few months before finally getting a diagnosis, they believe it is as a result of treatment he received for brain tumors.  Prior to his surgery last week he was having issues with his gait (although he could walk unassisted), memory recall issues, and slight incontinence.  The surgeon told us the surgery went fine and he’d be out of the hospital in 2 days.  The following day my dad declined rapidly.  The left side of his face was drooping, he could not recall who some people were from one minute to the next, he now cannot stand on his own let alone walk, and speaking is a struggle.  We have asked if it is possible he had a stroke during surgery, or since, we get no straight answer.  He is 100X’s worse than prior to surgery, and has now been sent ot live in a medical care facility.  At age 57 he is not happy, keeps trying to get out of bed or his wheelchair and is making matters worse by the day.  My question is, has anyone had any experience with hydrocephalus and this shunt surgery?  Is this regressing part of the deal?  Or has something gone horribly wrong and the doctors covering their you know what.s???
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So sorry to hear about your Dad. Shunts are sure complicated things...

My Mom (who is 82) had shunt surgery in fall 1998 for hydrocephalus. That shunt lasted almost 10 years. She had shunt surgery in Jan. 2008 and then again in June 2008. The first time, she was doing so well after surgery they started talking about sending her home  less than 24 hours later, which kind of freaked me out since she hadn't had a bowel movement yet or taken a shower on her own, etc. She suddenly took a turn for the worse--started vomiting, having a lot of nausea, headaches, speech got slurry, got very weak, etc.  Ended up needing to be in the rehab unit for a while. The doctor's only explanation was that the surgery can irritate the brain, disturb the vomiting center, etc. and her body needed to adjust.  

That first shunt was not externally programmable, as those types were pretty new back then, so they couldn't adjust the flow if too much/too little fluid was being drained without doing surgery. The 2nd shunt was also not an extrenally-programmable one--the doc figured she did well with her 1st one & that there's more to go wrong with the externally programmable/adjustable kind.  

The last/most recent surgery, a different surgeon did it and put an externally programmable shunt in. She was still having lots of cognitive problems, disoriented to place and time and was in a time warp (thought it was "real time" sometimes and was reliving 1984 at other times); falling at the subacute care hospital, etc. Very disturbing. The doctors couldn't/wouldn't adjust the shunt until at least 8 weeks post-op. Said if they adjusted it too quickly, she could have a hemorrhage and die. When they finally adjusted it, Mom improved significantly within 3-4 days.(Before the shunt adjustment, they thought she'd  need to move into a skilled care nursing home. Thankfully, she was able to move into an apartment with services after several weeks of therapy/rehab.)  

Did your Dad get an exernally-programmable (externally adjustable) shunt? If yes, then I'm wondering if they've talked about when it could be adjusted (doctors, we learned, differ on how long they like to wait after surgery to adjust the flow.)

It is possible he has developed an infection? (They're taking his temperature regularly, right?) An infection could be causing a shunt malfunction.

Have they done a follow-up CT scan or MRI to make sure the shunt is working properly? If not, definitely ask for one. Our neurosurgeon says a shunt can last a day or a lifetime... I know that's not reassuring, but it's good to know, nonetheless.

I hope you get answers. We had a horrible time trying to figure out what was going on with my Mom in Dec. 2007 and early Jan. 2008 (when her shunt was apparently failing.) We thought she must've had a stroke during or shortly after open heart surgery in early Dec., but the doctors (heart surgeon and regular cardiologist) delayed returning calls, wouldn't give us answers when we questioned why all of a sudden she couldn't remember how to tie her shoes, etc. I kept asking, could she have had a stroke or could this be her shunt failing, etc. All I can say is, be politely persistent; keep asking questions until you feel satisfied with the answers.  Please keep us posted.

Good luck,
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