Stories about: hydrocephalus

Building neurosurgical care in the heart of Africa: One doctor’s story

Warf with the Ugandan hospital’s first five surgical patients

In 2000, Benjamin Warf sold his house and a small farm in Kentucky and left his position as Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the University of Kentucky. After giving away most of their possessions, Warf, his six children, and his wife boarded a plane for Uganda, believing they were leaving the United States for good.

It was the beginning of an extraordinary six-and-a-half-year journey, fraught with violence, racism and difficult living conditions. Warf, at the age of 42, quickly went from being a respected neurosurgeon with many friends to being the strange white man people pointed to and laughed at on the street.

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The birth of ShuntCheck: Family, love, passion, death—and ice

Spencer Neff, Patient #1, during his first ShuntCheck trial, Nov 2002
Spencer Neff, Patient #1, during his first ShuntCheck trial, Nov 2002

The year was 2002, and 10-year-old Spencer Neff was a spunky boy with hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid inside his brain. A surgically implanted shunt – a tube to drain the fluid – was in place. Like all children with shunts, he was at risk for having the shunt plug up and malfunction, and he sometimes got scary headaches. But Spencer was lucky to have a neurosurgeon uncle, Samuel Neff, who offered him an interesting proposition:  would you rather be paid to help with some research, or be a scientific collaborator?  Spencer chose the latter.

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A very narrow bridge: Translational research

“The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge….and the main thing is not to be ruled by fear.”
–Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, 18th century Ukranian Hasidic mystic

My lab studies hydrocephalus, probably the most commonly treated pediatric neurosurgical condition. Most people think hydrocephalus was solved 50 years ago with invention of the shunt. But the kids I see with brain water problems, and their parents, don’t think the challenge is over. They ask: Why do I keep having headaches?

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