Pain and struggle, but triumph at graduation

The Examiner

It’s that time of year when the brain cells give a last performance. It’s called graduation.

It’s congratulations, gift cards, family, applause and goodbye time.

Diane Mack

I can’t handle the tear-stained faces and despondent farewells. I have my “hanky” ready.

Let’s go back to the brain cells and the last performance. Sometimes, there can be additional pressure on the brain cells, a pressure that is not normal, which makes graduation a little more challenging.

It’s not a textbook, teacher, assignment or project. It is a real pressure on the brain.

Have you heard of hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek word “hydro,” which means water, and “cephalus,” which means head. It is the abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

It is a lifelong condition that cannot be prevented or cured. Shunts are the method for treating hydrocephalus. The doctor surgically inserts a shunt to drain the fluid regularly.

As a child grows, sometimes shunts have to be replaced. Shunts can also become infected or obstructed.

Over the years, my daughter has had classmates and hospital roommates with hydrocephalus.

I’ve sat by many parents and watched their child face a critical surgery when a shunt didn’t work. The pain looked unbearable.

But when they get fixed, wow! The child is back in business, pain free, using their brain energy and talent in the manner they should.

I met a young lady recently. Her name is Patricia. She’s 28 years old and adorable. I have never seen her face without a smile.

Patricia was born with fluid on her brain, which made life a real challenge.

Although her condition did not manifest itself until she was 2 years old, mom knew.

Moms and dads know and should be inducted into the “Family with Special Needs” Hall of Fame. Believe me; they deserve it, especially the child.

Patricia also had a large cyst in her brain and eye, and also had a heart disease.

Like most hydrocephalic children, Patricia had a shunt implanted, adjusted over time, and then began to thrive. She shifted into the EMH program at school, kept meeting her goals, graduated from high school and entered a sheltered workshop.

Just last year, Patricia’s shunt began to malfunction. The doctors learned through surgery that over the years the body had digested part of the shunt and caused the fluid to drain in areas other than the stomach.

It was very serious, but Patricia triumphed again.

Patricia may take additional time to learn or communicate, but she is successful. She can read and maintain her own care, plus she is a delight to be around.

Since graduating from high school, Patricia has worked for 10 years. She also attends college classes designed for the special-needs population.

This past Saturday, Patricia received her certificate with a unique honor of perfect attendance in all of her college classes for over 10 years.

Way to go, Patricia! Congratulations to you and all 2021 graduates!

Hydrocephalus is an abnormal condition. Yes, abnormal, atypical, exceptional, curious, quite amazing, and ... may, I add, a joy.

That’s our graduate, Patricia.

Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at