Hydrocephalus Walk in Fort Mill focuses attention on brain disorder

October 14, 2013 

AMANDA PHIPPS - SPECIAL TO THE FORT MILL TIMES

— Special to the Fort Mill Times

Teams decked in matching T-shirts filled the parking lot of the Charlotte Knights Baseball Stadium as more than 250 participants showed their support for their families during the Inaugural Hydrocephalus Walk.

One of the participants at the Sept. 28 walk was Fort Mill resident Ali Witcher.

About five years ago, while her friends went back to school, hanging out and cheering on the football team, Witcher received a prognosis that changed her life. Witcher, 14 at the time, was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus, a life-threatening condition characterized by an excess of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

The diagnosis meant Witcher could no longer be on the cheer squad or do gymnastics. It meant long-term hospital stays and extensive surgeries.

There is no cure for Hydrocephalus. People who have been diagnosed are usually treated with shunts implanted in the brain, and the surgery often needs to be repeated due to shunt failure.

Witcher, now 19, has had 16 surgeries since she was diagnosed. Her mom, Sharon McNie, has seen her daughter’s daily struggles.

“It’s brutal,” she said. “She pushes through it all. I don’t know how she does it.”

The ton of support Witcher receives goes a long way to helping her cope.

“My family is amazing,” she said. “They are always here for me.”

All wearing blue “FAFFA” – Friends and Family For Ali – T-shirts, Witcher’s family showed their support not only for her, but for all those affected by Hydrocephalus during the walk.

More than 250 participants helped raise $28,000 for the Hydrocephalus Association at the event, exceeding the Association’s goal, walk co-chair Christy Ruth said.

“All of our families are living with Hydrocephalus,” Ruth told the participants.

Hydrocephalus, an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition, is in constant need of research and support, McNie said.

“I just hope they can find a cure, or at least make [Hydrocephalus] more tolerable,” she said.

Witcher was first diagnosed with a benign tumor. After a cheerleading incident in which she hit her head, doctors discovered the tumor had caused a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid, the characterization of Hydrocephalus, Witcher said.

Witcher spent months in and out of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House, the hospital’s long-term stay center, as doctors were met with ongoing challenges. At one point, Witcher’s shunt came out on its own.

“Nothing has ever gone as planned,” McNie said.

However, Witcher takes it one day at a time.

“It’s nothing compared to what other people are going through,” she said.

Witcher has also received support from Nation Ford High School, from which she graduated on-time thanks to the school’s medical homebound program that arranged for a tutor to come to Witcher’s house when her teacher could not.

Now a sophomore at USC, Witcher is studying psychology. She hopes to one day work with patients with traumatic brain injuries.

“I have to work harder than normal, but it’s worth it,” she said. “I want to make an impact on people’s lives.”

For more information on Hydrocephalus, go to hydroassoc.org.

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