Published On: Thu, Mar 16th, 2017

Baby with hydrocephalus (A tale of two Heads)

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I met the baby on the ward. She was blind, deaf and unable to feed. Her head was as huge as a big watermelon and definitely too big for her neck. She could not sit, stand or walk at the age of 16 months.

She was in a sorry state.

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Apparently, the baby developed hydrocephalus (too much water on the brain) following a bout of meningitis at a very early age. The grandmother instructed the family to take the baby to the village, where there was one ‘Baba’ that has been managing this condition, successfully for years.

Baba performed rituals and incantations daily. He washed the baby’s head twice a day with strange medications. He stretched the baby and massaged the arms and legs till they were bruised. As the days turn to weeks and weeks to month, with no improvement, the mother took her baby and ran away from the village.

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Rachael (Another world)

I met the baby in the clinic. She was irritable and unhappy. She had a fever and was not feeding well. Her head was noticeably big, perhaps like a big pineapple: just because of the hairstyle. Her head had been increasing in size since a month after birth and of some concern to the mother.

Why is it only the head of the baby that is growing?

However, it was the poor feeding and the vomiting that brought them to hospital.  It was obvious that the baby had hydrocephalus (too much water on the brain). We sent the baby to have a brain scan and it confirmed massive hydrocephalus. The brain was small and pushed tightly out, plastered to the inside of the skull.

The parents were quite concerned and keen to have treatment performed as soon as possible. We proceeded with surgery aimed at removing the excess water from the brain and piping it into the stomach. This controls the build-up of pressure in the head and prevents brain damage.

The operation called a ‘shunt’ for short or ventriculo-peritoneal shunt (in full) was performed immediately and the baby made a good recovery. She was discharged home within 2 days and the mum shaved off her hair (bye bye, pineapple!).

I saw her recently at 5 years of age. Rachael had become a pretty little girl, full of life and in great spirits: as she came to celebrate her birthday with us in the office. Apparently, she is doing well in class and the shunt is still working, obviously. She brought me a bottle of wine as a gift (well, the family did!).

A little appreciation of the wonders of modern medicine.

Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus in children is often congenital, that means they were born like that. It could be because of some problem with the pregnancy or the delivery especially in situations where the delivery was difficult. Many other babies also suffer hydrocephalus because of infection. Preventing infection in the mother and in the child early after birth is therefore very important. Routine antenatal care should be carried out regularly. Immunisation to prevent the common childhood diseases such as measles, rubella and chicken pox is also vital.

The treatment

First, hydrocephalus is treatable but the treatment is best when carried out early. There are also many ways to treat the condition depending on the cause. That is the job of the doctor, usually a brain surgeon, who has modern techniques to investigate and treat.

We can put in a shunt as discussed above or perform an operation that entails using a tiny microscope (an endoscope) to make a hole inside the babies’ brain to drain away the excess fluid. Both operations do the same job: that is to prevent the build of water inside the head. The pressure from the water is what enlarges the growing head and damages the brain. As you may have gathered it can lead to a big head, blindness, deafness, paralysis and death in children.

Hydrocephalus can also affect adults, of course. In adults, it causes a severe and unrelenting headache. Similarly, is can cause blindness and disability in adults. A patient of mine died after the family ‘rejected the operation’ because ‘it’s not our portion’. You know of course, that the Almighty God gave doctors the wisdom and the skill to deliver health on earth, on his behalf! This brings me to the tail end of this article.

Charlatans in our world

Herbalists, traditional healers and pastors step outside the boundaries of their skill levels and training, if any. Many people have been hurt and killed by these people who practice medicine without a certificate! They kill and maim daily without any clue as to the huge numbers of lives they destroy. We must deal with this as a society and you need to report them as appropriate. Sue them in the law courts if you have to!

Pastors especially must be allowed to minister on the spiritual plane and not the physical. We should stop compromising the ideals of religion on the altar of money. Do not go to them for medical treatment. Allow them to connect you with the powers of God and pay your tithes so they do not stray.

They should pray for you, not play with you.

The Government itself through the Ministry of Health must also see weeding out charlatans as part of its social responsibility to protect the citizens of Nigeria. However, it is up to you to avoid these people. Do not allow poverty to force you to their domain, as it actually costs much more in the long run.

Two tails

The two stories seek to inform you about hydrocephalus and also to reiterate a strong message about herbal medicines, traditional healers and pastors. What I hope you will learn from this is that it is not cheap to go cheap. You lose in the short term and even more in the long run. You could also lose the life of a loved one! The child at the beginning of this article died soon after.

The second child is thriving and maybe she will become our President!

(Article by spine fixed in abuja)

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Baby with hydrocephalus (A tale of two Heads)