21-year-old Woman with Hydrocephalus Finally Finds Relief After 18 Years
May 31, 2022
The Morey family won’t soon forget the Presidents Day blizzard of 2003, but for a reason unlike most: That day, 2-year-old Penni began repeatedly vomiting and passing out.
Penni’s mother, Kerri, called 911. The ambulance couldn’t get to the Morey home because of unplowed roads, so paramedics parked the ambulance as close as they could get. Penni’s father carried little Penni through 2-foot-high snow back to the vehicle, which took her to the closest emergency room.
Initially, the ER staff thought Penni had the flu, but a CAT scan showed she had a benign brain tumor blocking the “plumbing”—the ventricles that allow fluid in the brain to drain out—which was causing hydrocephalus (fluid build-up in the brain). She was transferred to another hospital, where she underwent surgery to place a shunt in her brain to bypass the blocked ventricles. That shunt failed within a month, but the placement of her second shunt was successful.
When Penni was 15, the second shunt became dislodged and was removed. It wasn’t replaced because Penni’s doctors deemed her hydrocephalus stable.
But Penni began having severe migraines that repeatedly landed her in the ER, and began experiencing severe anxiety and depression. She struggled in school, not able to participate in activities or socialize.
Her doctors offered a variety of treatments, but nothing reduced the migraines, anxiety or depression. Then, in 2020, she was referred to Eduardo Correia, M.D., a neuro-oncologist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center who specializes in the therapeutic administration of Botox®, an option considered to help Penni’s migraines.
But after talking to Penni and her mother about their experiences and reviewing Penni’s records, Dr. Correia felt strongly that her hydrocephalus was causing the migraines and associated anxiety and depression.
“When I first saw her, she was distraught and completely miserable,” Dr. Correia says. “She was staying at home, crying and depressed.”
He told Penni and her mother that people with uncontrolled hydrocephalus can have memory issues, trouble concentrating, and anxiety and depression.
Instead of starting her on Botox® treatments, Dr. Correia reached out to his colleague, Shabbar Danish, M.D., chair of neurosurgery at Jersey Shore, to investigate if Penni’s hydrocephalus was causing the problems, and to see if a new shunt would help.
Dr. Danish proposed a simple experiment: Penni would take a medication called acetazolamide, which is a diuretic, to help reduce fluid in her body. “Our hypothesis was that Penni was not absorbing cerebrospinal fluid efficiently in the brain, which was causing her severe headaches. A trial of the drug allowed us to test that hypothesis,” Dr. Danish says. “It gives you a decision without doing something invasive.”
Penni saw results immediately after taking the medication: no more migraines. A few weeks later, Dr. Danish placed a new shunt.
A New Lease on Life
Now 21, Penni feels like she has a new lease on life. “Honestly, that’s what it feels like. Looking at my life just a few months back in comparison to now, it’s like two different people, ” she says. “It’s crazy to me.”
Adds Dr. Correia: “I can’t believe the change from the last time I saw her. She was like a different person.”
Penni’s severe migraines are gone, and her anxiety and depression are greatly diminished. She’s getting out and socializing, and she’s overall happier and peppier, said her mom, who credits Drs. Danish and Correia for the transformation.
“Dr. Correia and Dr. Danish are awesome,” Penni’s mom, Kerri, says. “They work as a team and talk things out, finding the best approach for treatment. That’s why I love this team!”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our sources: Shabbar Danish, M.D., and Eduardo Correia, M.D.
- To make an appointment with a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn more about neurosciences services at Hackensack Meridian Health
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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