Baby Klaus: Shunned by Doctors and Left to Die


The condition affects people of all ages, from babies like Klaus to the elderly, and although there are effective treatments, there is no cure.

Hydrocephalus is the number one reason for brain surgery among children.

The condition can be congenital and, like Baby Klaus, begin in the womb, or it can develop during adulthood. Some of the causes for adult onset can be a brain tumor, a trauma to the head or anything that obstructs the flow of cerebral spinal fluid.

In the elderly, the narrowing of the spinal column can trigger hydrocephalus.

About 1 in 500 babies is born with hydrocephalus or diagnosed in utero. Ultrasound can detect additional fluid on the brain.

"But it's not well known and doctors, especially in smaller areas can miss the boat," she said. "People need to know more about hydrocephalus."

Sometimes the condition is not immediately apparent until six or eight months later when the child shows symptoms like vomiting, clumsiness or delayed learning. Eyes turned in different directions or unexplained urinary incontinence can also be a clue.

Headaches can cause "intense, sharp" pain, according to Burdine.

Shunt surgery, to drain the fluid to another part of the body, was developed as long ago as 1952, but many doctors are not well-versed in new treatments, according to Burdine.

Baby Treated In Utero For Hydrocephalus

Today, surgery is performed in utero. Such was the case with Samuel Armas, who was treated at Vanderbilt Medical Center in 1999.

In an alternate procedure, third ventriculostomy, surgeons drill a small to divert flow around the surface of the brain. It has a higher success rate and less risk of infection.

Burdine's life has been upended by hydrocephalus. She went to nursing school, but every time she jump-started a career, it was disrupted by a shunt failure and more surgery.

Now, she has a programmable valve, a pacemaker-like device, which has worked so well that she has not had a surgery since 2003.

"I am a bionic woman," said Burdine, who has two children in their 20s and is a grandmother. "It slows down the fluid or speeds it up to keep me alive."

In 2007, she founded Hydro Angels Over Texas, with the goal of helping families with support groups and educational resources. Fundraisers run by volunteers help offset medical costs and transportation.

The group's motto, "We're always here when you need us," was a reality for Baby Klaus.

The baby's Aunt Ericka, who had made the first call to Burdine, said until now, "Nobody approached us with humanity. Everybody approached us with a clinical standpoint. They never offered any hope."

The baby's parents, who have two other children, decided to go public with their story to bring awareness to hydrocephalus. They have been "overwhelmed" by the media, including requests to make a documentary film, according to hospital officials.

But Baby Klaus is in good hands, according to Lisa Beebe, who works as administrative assistant to Jimenez, the boy's surgeon.

"He never gives up on a baby's brain -- ever," said Beebe. "This is something he lives by. He has a love of these babies."

Baby Klaus has also become the medical team's favorite patient.

"The kid was shunned by society for such a long time, and now is totally over-loved," said Jimenez. "He's my favorite patient. I can't wait to see him each morning."

For more information about hydrocephalus, contact Hydro Angels Over Texas.

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