Inside Gillette Blog

Hydrocephalus Awareness Month: Your Questions Answered

Posted On: 09/15/2014

By: Amanda Seeley, Neurosurgery Nurse Practitioner

Did you know that September is National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month? As one of four neurosurgery nurse practitioners at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, I help our team take care of numerous patients with hydrocephalus, and answer many questions about this condition from patients, families and staff.  I also help lead the Hydrocephalus Association Walk at the Mall of America (photos below) to generate funds for research and create awareness! Here are the five most frequently asked questions about hydrocephalus and shunts.

This is my captionWhat causes hydrocephlaus?
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a water-based solution that flows in a certain path within our brain and spinal canal.  Usually, there is an even rate between how much CSF a person is making and how much CSF his/her body is absorbing.  Hydrocephalus occurs when there is a disruption in this balance or a block in the normal flow of CSF that naturally happens.  CSF can build up within the ventricles (fluid spaces) of the brain and can cause pressure to be dangerously high in the brain. There are many causes of hydrocephalus.  Babies can be born with congenital hydrocephalus.  Also, patients may have a high risk of developing hydrocephalus when they are babies because of an underlying diagnosis, such as spina bifida.  Other causes of hydrocephalus are acquired obstructions in CSF flow, like brain hemorrhage, brain tumor, or trauma.   

How is hydrocephalus treated?
Although there are a few medications that may temporarily treat hydrocephalus, the usual treatment involves surgery.  The most common treatment for hydrocephalus is a surgically implanted shunt.  This is a device that moves CSF from the ventricles of the brain to an area in the body where the patient can safely absorb it, most commonly within the sac that holds the abdominal organs, called the peritoneum. Working shunts can keep a patient’s brain at a normal pressure, but unfortunately can malfunction.  The average life of a shunt is about 5 years, but the range of shunt life is days to decades long.  The surgery to fix a non-working shunt is called a shunt revision.

My child has never had a shunt malfunction, how will I know if it isn’t working/what will it be like?
Every patient is different, but common symptoms of a shunt malfunction are headache, vomiting, sleepiness, and irritability.  I often tell patients, families, and caregivers to remember that it is not up to them to know if a shunt is working or not, it is up to them to let us know if they are concerned.  The neurosurgery team will help sort out if a patient’s symptoms are because of a shunt malfunction or something else.  Often times we use different imaging studies, like a head CT or brain MRI to get more information about the shunt’s function.   Remember that most episodes of vomiting and fever are not shunt related.

Will the doctor shave my child’s head during surgery?
Usually the pediatric neurosurgeons at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare do not need to shave a child’s hair for shunt placements or revisions.  Often, the surgeons will use dissolvable stitches that will not need to be removed after surgery as well.

Are there activity restrictions for patients that have shunts?

Our team generally does not recommend strict activity limitations for patients with shunts.  We do recommend avoiding scuba diving and sky diving due to the pressure dynamics, but otherwise encourage patients to be active and involved in the activities they wish to pursue.  Of course, we always remind patients and families to wear helmets appropriate for sports and activities as part of our general health recommendations.


Severe Epilepsy: How Gillette Clinicians are Improving Outcomes

Posted On: 07/18/2014

By Samuel Roiko, Clinical Scientist

As a regional leader in pediatric epilepsy management, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare treats patients who have some of the most complex, and chronic, seizure disorders seen in children.  We offer our patients state-of-the-art treatments and services to help them achieve the best possible health, independence, and happiness.  Part of that commitment also includes research into things like SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy).

As its name implies, SUDEP is a sudden, unexpected, non-traumatic death in a patient with epilepsy – without evidence of a structural or toxicological cause of death. The SUDEP rate is estimated to be 1.22 out of 1000 patients with epilepsy, but there are many factors that increase the risk of SUDEP. For example, the presence of an underlying central nervous system (CNS) disease, the age of the patient, and the age of onset of epilepsy all increase the risk for SUDEP. 

At Gillette, we believe that every child lost to SUDEP is one too many.  That’s why we were excited to participate in the 2014 PAME (Partners Against Mortality in Epilepsy) conference, held this June in Minneapolis (pictured above).  The goals of the conference were to foster knowledge, improve awareness, and hasten action around SUDEP. It was the second meeting of its kind, where clinical, basic science, and patient/family attendees came together to understand and support each other.

As clinical scientist for Gillette’s Center for Pediatric Neurosciences, I hoped to learn more about the state of the medical and research community regarding SUDEP.  How SUDEP happens is not known. The brain, heart, and lungs all form an intricate, intertwined network, and increased activity in certain areas of the brain can result in a lower rate of breathing, which can lower the heart rate, resulting in a spiraling loss of function. It is difficult to precisely determine what is the primary cause.

Many presentations gave hope with new advances. Serotonin and adenosine are two of many brain neurotransmitters in the brain that have been studied. Serotonin plays a role in heart rate and respiration, while adenosine is involved in wakefulness and arousal. Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly prescribed drugs, are a potential therapeutic to prevent SUDEP. Adenosine activity increases in mouse models of SUDEP, and can be blocked by caffeine. These intriguing findings raised many questions – more indication that further research is needed.

My colleague, Beverly Wical, M.D. emphasized the importance of increasing the awareness of SUDEP, and that we at Gillette are involved in research studies regarding SUDEP. We are actively working with colleagues across the country to form a national consortium to study SUDEP and its prevention. We owe it to our patients!


Gillette Families Advocate for Kids’ Health Care at Nation’s Capitol

Posted On: 07/09/2014

On June 24-25, families representing children’s hospitals throughout the U.S. took to Capitol Hill with a unified mission — to raise awareness, among members of Congress, of the important issues impacting children’s hospitals and pediatric health care today.  It was all part of Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day, an annual initiative of the Children’s Hospital Association. We’re proud that two of those families, the Wittrock family of Burnsville, Minn. and the Harbarth family of Mankato, Minn., represented Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

The Wittrocks and Harbarths know firsthand the many issues that families of medically complex children often face.  Brandon Wittrock, 17, and Madison Harbarth, 7, are longtime patients of Gillette, a St. Paul-based hospital with outpatient sites throughout the state.  This made them ideal families to meet one-on-one with the state’s legislators, sharing their personal stories and stressing the important role Gillette plays as one of the nation’s only specialty care pediatric hospitals.

“Brandon was a million dollar baby by the time he was three days old,” Sheri Wittrock told members of Congress, referring to the cost of care when her son, Brandon, was born.  “Without Gillette, he wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you today.”

During their time in Washington D.C., the Wittrocks and Harbarths, along with Gillette representatives, received a warm reception from Senator Al Franken, Rep. Betty McCollum, and staff members from Senator Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz’s offices.  

They also had the opportunity to meet a national celebrity—Dr. Jennifer Arnold, a pediatric neonatologist and co-star of TLC’s The Little Couple, who participated in Family Advocacy Day with her husband and two children (Madison Harbarth is pictured with Dr. Arnold and her daughter, Zoey).  

Many thanks to our Minnesota representatives, Children’s Hospital Association staff, and our amazing patient families for a memorable and productive time in our nation’s capitol!

Minnesota Monthly highlights Come Fly With Me gala

Posted On: 06/25/2014

KARE-TV Captures Camp Get-A-Well-A at Gillette

Posted On: 06/24/2014

Camp-Get-A-Well-A is a much-loved tradition here at Gillette — and this week’s camp, with a “Superheroes” theme, is no exception!  The camp, which happens daily from June 23-27, brings the joys and activities of summer camp to hospitalized children.

The week’s first activity for patient campers and their families was decorating a Superhero cape to wear during Superhero Movie Night later in the week. More than 120 capes were created with the help of volunteers from REMAX and KFAN during the Monday morning activity, held in Gillette’s lobby. And a special guest, KARE-TV, was on hand to capture the fun.

KARE-TV’s news segment ran Monday, June 23 during the 6:00 p.m. newscast. Anchors Julie Nelson, Randy Shaver and meteorologist Belinda Jensen had positive things to say about Gillette before and after the segment aired: “When you can’t go to summer camp, summer camp comes to you. It doesn’t get any better than this. I had a chance to tour the facility. It was bright; the staff there has all of this positive energy. Good for them.”  


Click here for a photo album of this week's camp experience. Many thanks to KARE-TV for stopping by, and to our generous sponsors Deli Express and Quality Resource Group, for making these great activities possible!

Event Recap: Minnesota Twins Hope Week Pizza Party

Posted On: 05/15/2014

It was a beautiful day in Minneapolis when Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare families entered Target Field ready for lunch and a chance to meet their favorite athletes. Twins first baseman Joe Mauer greeted the crowd alongside teammates Chris Colabello, Jason Kubel, Eduardo Escobar, Kyle Gibson, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, and Michael Tonkinmad. The rest of the afternoon was filled with photos, chatting, autograph signing and playing corn hole. There was even a special appearance by TC Bear! It was a memorable day filled with laughter and smiles!

Click here to see event photos and videos on our Facebook page.

Wanted: Volunteers Who Love to Laugh

Posted On: 03/12/2014

This fall, Gillette will host our third annual Laugh Out Loud Twin Cities (LOLTC) comedy event, benefiting Gillette. Last year, headliner Howie Mandel entertained more than 500 people, and the evening’s activities raised more than $250,000!

We are recruiting committee members to volunteer their time and talents to plan and execute this year’s event, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

What does it mean to serve on this committee? Once a month, you’ll meet with a group of passionate and committed individuals who want to help make LOLTC fun for everyone who attends. From planning fundraising activities like the “mystery box” or “wine toss,” to decorating the venue for the event, there are lots of ways we can use your help.

We ask that committee members be available for the majority of monthly meetings (twice each month as the event date comes closer) and be available to volunteer at and attend the event on Sept. 27.

For more information about this special volunteer opportunity, please contact Jenny Floria at 651-229-1766 or at  You can also go to and provide us with your contact information. Someone will get in touch with you.

Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine Recaps LOLTC

Posted On: 02/04/2014

February's issue of Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine featured Laugh Out Loud Twin Cities, held September 2013 at the Radisson Blu. The annual fundraiser for Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare featured comedian Howie Mandel.

November Film Festival Highlights People Who Have Disabilities

Posted On: 10/30/2013

It's movie time at the St. Anthony Main theaters in Minneapolis!  Nov. 1 - 5, the theaters will showcase a series of movies focusing on people who have disabilities. 

For example, in Wampler's Ascent, Steve Wampler climbs El Capitan in Yosemite National Park a few inches at a time. Because he has cerebral palsy, he has to perform 20,000 pull-ups to complete the ascent! The film, which runs a little more than an hour, shows on Friday and Sunday evenings. Wampler will speak at both screenings.

Because Gillette is sponsoring the Sunday screening, Gillette families are eligible for a discounted ticket price of $7 on Sunday night. Just mention Gillette when you purchase your tickets. The  festival promotes awareness of the lives and artistic efforts of people who have disabilities. Click here for a schedule and to learn more. Some of the events include discussion sessions afterward.  

Note: St. Anthony Main has an attached parking ramp for easy access!

Calling All Gamers: Extra Life Fundraiser is November 2!

Posted On: 10/18/2013

Do you like to game? If the answer is yes, why not play your favorite games for charity? On November 2nd, 2013 participate in the Extra Life gaming event. This is the biggest gaming charity of the year to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, that’s Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare)!

Here’s how it works. Ask your friends and family to sponsor you with a monthly pledge or a one-time gift and on November 2nd, sit back, relax, and game for the next 25 hours. This can be any type of game — mobile devices, consoles, even board games all count. You can game by yourself, or in a group. No matter how you choose to play, you’re making a difference in the lives of children who receive care at Gillette.

A big supporter of Extra Life is mobile video-gaming company Game Truck.  Yesterday, the Minneapolis Game Truck visited Gillette to help recruit participants for this year’s Extra Life fundraiser. The truck opened its doors and welcomed all who were interested to game and learn more about the Extra Life event.

If you’re an avid gamer or just someone who enjoys playing video games, sign up and take the Extra Life challenge on November 2nd. To learn more visit, the Extra Life website.

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