Rick’s Path to a New Way of Living

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About thirty years ago, while doing yard work, Rick Harmer fell five feet from a ladder, landing headfirst. He was diagnosed with a concussion and had a full recovery, at least for a while.  Twenty years after the concussion diagnosis, Rick began to have trouble walking and experienced frequent falls and incontinence. He did not know what was happening and became scared, frustrated, angry and depressed.

Rick’s condition was originally diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, but he had doubts and sought referrals to a neurologist and then a neurosurgeon.  Following an MRI and a CT scan, he was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) and in 2022 a programmable shunt was placed in his skull, just above his right ear.   

Following the surgery, Rick recovered fully, and his life returned to normal. He adjusted to living with hydrocephalus and the shunt to control it. However, not long after his surgery, he visited the Spark Museum of Electrical invention in Bellingham, Washington. A few days later,
he felt as if he was experiencing a relapse in his hydrocephalus, first noticing problems with his balance.

Seeing no reason for this change in his mobility, and because he takes his condition very seriously, he arranged to see his neurosurgeon. This doctor immediately adjusted the valve in his shunt; the apparent cause of the malfunction was that Rick had stood too close to the electronics displays. Following this episode, Rick has decided, as a precaution, to use his cell phone on the left side of his head.

Rick’s initial misdiagnosis and a love of writing have inspired him to share his story with the local newspaper to raise awareness of hydrocephalus. He believes that if he can get the attention of even two people who think they may have the condition, then he will have done something positive. However, because he has tremors in his dominant hand, he uses speech-to-text computer technology and his wife edits for him.

Rick keeps up with the literature on hydrocephalus and is careful to watch for any changes in how he feels.  If he feels that something is out of balance, he contacts his neurosurgeon immediately.  

Rick knows he has a lifelong condition but finds it easy enough to manage. Because his balance is poor, he uses walking poles when out for his daily walks. He also acknowledges the importance of reading the stories of others who have hydrocephalus and learning from their experiences.  He believes it is very important to stay informed and to keep up with the latest research. He has recently connected with Hydrocephalus Canada.

Although there is no cure for hydrocephalus, Rick does not allow himself to be consumed with worry. He hopes to see more awareness of the condition in the media. He encourages anyone who has hydrocephalus to reach out to friends and family for support.  He remembers many dark days before he learned the reason for the many physical problems he was experiencing.  Now he is grateful to his wife, family and friends for their kindness and generosity and credits them for helping him regain his motivation to carry on and accept his new way of living.


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