Brave Student Battles Brain Condition

Mon, 27/08/2001 - 01:00

A brave college student has recently had a medical bolt inserted into her skull as she battles a rare brain condition.

Katie Williamson, 17, from Washington, who studies at East Durham College’s Houghall Campus, suffers from a crippling illness that causes a build-up of spinal fluid, putting pressure on her brain and triggering debilitating sight problems and migraines.

Doctors warned her when she was just 13 that she would have to undergo a series of operations in a bid to maintain her sight and halt the horrendous symptoms that had plagued her for months.

Four years on, Katie is still battling Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), an incurable condition which affects just one in every 100,000 people, and faces further surgery in the coming years.

“Thankfully, her sight has improved,” said Mum Michelle, from Biddick.

“We managed to catch the condition early. But we know people who haven’t been so lucky. It could have been a lot worse.”

However, the 47-year-old said her daughter, who also suffers from autism and epilepsy, responded badly to medication, forcing her to undergo a string of operations.

“The symptoms are controlled by a host of medications ‘borrowed’ from other illnesses,” she explained.

“These failed to work for Katie, as happens in most cases of IIH, and she underwent surgery in 2008.

“Surgeons inserted a lumbar, a peritoneal shunt which drained the Cerebrospinal fluid from her lower spine into her abdomen.”

But she suffered another setback in her treatment and had to undergo three more ops.

“Her shunt over-drained, causing her brain to herniate, which caused a host of new problems,” said Michelle. “Because of this, her shunt was removed this year and two weeks later the agonising headaches were back.

“She was rushed into hospital in March when surgeons inserted an ICP bolt into her skull to monitor the fluid pressure.

“This procedure confirmed high pressure, so she was taken back to theatre to be fitted with another shunt.

“This time a ventricular-peritoneal shunt, which drains the fluid directly from her right ventricle down into her abdomen via a catheter, which goes through her neck and chest.”

However, the horse care student is refusing to allow the condition to hold her back.

As well as being a keen horse rider and swimmer, she is also a junior representative of IIH UK.

“Her job mainly involves supporting other teens and younger children diagnosed with IIH,” said Michelle. “She also helps to arrange support group meetings in the North East.

“As well as her charity work for IIH UK, Katie is also a volunteer at Washington RDA Riding Centre. She has a one-to-one riding lesson there every week and does voluntary work on a Saturday, helping to clean the stables and lead horses during other children’s lessons.”

And Katie said she is determined to get on with her life.

“I’ve never complained or moaned about what I went through and what I may go through in the future,” she said. “There’s no use making a huge issue out of something that is beyond your control.

“You just have to stay strong and get on with it. At the end of the day it has to happen to someone, and I don’t think I could cope if it happened to someone I cared about.”

Chloe Walker, Curriculum Leader for Equine Studies at East Durham College, said: “ Katie missed quite a large part of her course due to her illness, but as soon as she felt well she came straight back to college. She managed to catch up with the other students and is doing excellent.

“Katie is a very committed student and is always keen to improve and get involved in college life. She is a credit to herself, family and the College.”

For more information about IIH, visit or