For Nathaniel Hargett, surgery has been a way of life for much of his 21 years. But today's new technology -- and a doctor considered "a godsend" by Hargett's mother -- is keeping him out of the operating room.
As a baby, Hargett contracted a form of meningitis that left him with debilitating side effects, including deafness.
His most persistent affliction, though, is hydrocephalus, which causes fluid to accumulate in his head. Treatment is done through the surgical placement of a shunt, which circumvents the blockage or diverts the excess cerebrospinal fluid to the abdomen.
Various complications led to the need for frequent shunt revisions for Hargett; he underwent surgery nearly 90 times for such revisions. For four rocky years, starting in 1990, he and his mother, Cheryl Dorsett, essentially lived at Children's Hospital in Denver.
Dr. Mark Krautheim, a neurosurgeon at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, was the only surgeon willing to take on Hargett as a regular patient when his mother, weary of trips to Denver, looked to local doctors for help. And it was Krautheim who offered a treatment that might mean a stop to the tormenting cycle of surgeries: a device called the Codman Hakim Programmable Valve.
Instead of surgical revisions, the valve allows for external adjustments to the shunt through the use of an electromagnetic device. In addition, the 18 pressure settings provide greater options for treatment.
Hargett became the first person in Colorado to receive the valve when it was implanted in June 1998, shortly before the treatment won general approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Since then, he has undergone only one operation, at the abdominal end of the shunt.
He has had the shunt adjusted several times -- but now that's a relatively simple procedure done in the doctor's office, avoiding the trauma, cost and time of surgery.
Krautheim has since placed the valve in about a dozen patients, mostly infants.