State of the Team: An Open Letter

Pictured here: Grant with his daughter Kate Finlayson, the inspiration behind Team Hydro.  Along with his wife Pam and sons Peter and Sam, Grant keeps Team Hydro moving on the quest to find and fund a cure for hydrocephalus.  You can support the cause HERE.

Dear Friends,

Our family is heading to SF this week, where on Saturday at 8:30am my wife Pam and sons Peter & Sam will jump into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay for Team Hydro’s annual Alcatraz Swim for Hydrocephalus Research!
I am pleased to report that, over the past year, Team Hydro’s research efforts have continued to have tremendous impact.  A recap of 2022-23 highlights:
  • Team Hydro funded four new “seed” grants (Innovator Awards organized by the Hydrocephalus Association, for which Pam serves on the board of directors and our son Sam serves on the research screening committee).  For info on these new grants see (link).
  • This brings Team Hydro’s funded grants to date to a total of 17, for an aggregate of more than $1 Million in grant funding.  These grants have been awarded to 15 different researchers across three continents, and affiliated with 11 world class research institutions including among others Harvard University, Washington University of St. Louis, Indiana University, University of Queensland (Australia), University of California at San Diego, Wayne State University, Loma Linda University, and University of Patras (Greece).
  • Team Hydro’s seed grants have achieved extraordinary multiplier effects, with the first $1 Million in funded research to date collectively qualifying for follow-on funding of more than $20 Million in major awards by NIH and DoD to multiple Team Hydro grantees — an aggregate multiplier of over 20x (up from 7x a year ago).
  • One of our superstar grantees, Dr. Bonnie Blazer-Yost (recipient of two Team Hydro grants in 2015 and 2022) recently received major additional follow-on funding of $11.7 Million from DoD. (link)
  • Building on these grants, Indiana University has announced plans to launch a dedicated Hydrocephalus Research Center to be led by Dr. Blazer-Yost — which we believe is the first such dedicated research center in the world. (link)
  • Just this past week, it was announced that a second compound (utilizing SGK1 inhibitors) developed by Dr. Blazer-Yost’s research has been granted a patent by the US Patent Office.  (link).  Like her first patented compound (utilizing TRPV4 inhibitors), this one will also now move into clinical trials on the path to approval by the FDA for non-surgical treatment of Hydrocephalus (i.e., a pill to reduce CSF production, potentially enabling treatment without the surgical placement of high risk shunt devices).
  • Another super-star researcher, Dr Carolyn Harris was the recipient of a Team Hydro-enabled grant in 2020 to study the differences in how immune cells in the brain react after a shunt is placed.  Earlier this year, Dr Harris secured nearly $3M in follow-on funding from the NIH to continue that research!  This funding will allow her team at Wayne State to decipher how and why shunts are failing – from what tissue source and what those cells are doing – and then importantly how to prevent that from happening.  Inspired by her successes, she’s also founding a startup company to build a more physiologic valve for patients!
  • Dr. Ryann Fame, a brilliant young scientist who conducted cutting-edge research on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, the complex system that becomes disrupted with Hydrocephalus) as a post-doctoral fellow under a Team Hydro grant to the Lehtinen lab at Children’s Hospital in Boston, has been appointed Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford Medical School. (link)  Dr. Fame will now lead her own laboratory at Stanford, focusing on the CSF system and Hydrocephalus and funded in part by another Innovator Award this year.  Dr. Fame, who is an open water swimmer, will also personally join us for the Alcatraz Swim this Saturday! (She previously completed several Team Hydro swims with us across the Boston Harbor.)  
We are so proud and grateful that Team Hydro has been been able to play a small role in encouraging Dr. Blazer-Yost, Dr. Fame, Dr. Harris, and a growing number of additional brilliant scientific innovators (link) to bring their training, talents and passion to the challenge of solving Hydrocephalus. This has been the dream for Team Hydro from the beginning — to encourage a new generation of our most promising researchers to apply their talents to improve scientific understanding, develop better treatments, and ultimately find a cure for this tragic condition that has has been neglected for so long.
We are pleased to note that Team Hydro has been able to apply its limited resources with extraordinary efficiency and careful stewardship:  
  1. With all overhead provided on a volunteer basis, we honor our commitment to donors that 100% of donations go directly to research
  2. By partnering with our good friends at the internationally prominent Hydrocephalus Association, which runs a request for proposals each year, we gain access to a remarkable pipeline of world-class research proposals — with Team Hydro enjoying the right to select for funding the proposals that we are convinced have the greatest potential for outsized impact
  3. As noted above, the quality and impact of Team Hydro-funded research is reflected in the tremendous follow-on funding multiplier we have witnessed:  more than 20x to date, and continuing to rise as more funded projects mature. 
We are thrilled to welcome for the Team Hydro Alcatraz Swim this year one of our largest groups of dedicated swimmers ever, including the entire Stanford Water Polo team (link), the Malvern Prep (PA) water polo team (link), members of the San Ramon Valley High School water polo team, as noted one of our distinguished grant recipients (go Professor Fame!), and we will again be joined by a remarkable athlete who lives with shunted hydrocephalus (go Kate Damrell!), as well as friends and family members of other heroic hydrocephalus patients.  
We also continue to be grateful for the dedication of local age group swim teams that sponsor fundraising events for Team Hydro:  in particular, we salute the Dorset Dolphin swim team of  Marietta, Georgia (link), which hosts the “Dolphin Dash” each year to raise funds and awareness for Hydrocephalus research (our love and gratitude to the Beck family, whose inspirational daughter Lilly swims — and lives each day — with shunted hydrocephalus).  The successful 6th annual Dolphin Dash completed this summer brought the total contribution from local swim team events to Team Hydro’s research funds over the $100,000 mark.  
We applaud and celebrate the efforts of all of these swimmers to help spread the word:  using their strength as swimmers to do good, and tapping their networks to raise awareness and funding for the cause.  We believe they will be great champions and ambassadors for Hydrocephalus research into the future.
Finally, with great gratitude for your generous support, we note the following milestones in our overall fund- and awareness-raising efforts:  
  • Team Hydro’s total funds raised has now surpassed the $1.5 Million mark
  • Since inception, Team Hydro has received generous donations from approx. 10,000 contributors — a metric of our collective success in the key goal of spreading awareness!  
  • The recent liquidation of an (anonymous) in-kind donation of a private equity fund interest brought its contribution to Team Hydro to more than $300,000 — our largest single donation to date.
The great success that we have been blessed with is giving us confidence to be able to deploy effectively a larger amount of funding going forward.  So if you are in a position to help — with personal donations, in-kind donations, and/or recommendations for other sources of support — we will continue to be extremely grateful!
Whether it is for $3 or $300,000, every donation is a precious treasure to us:  a genuine expression of your love, empathy and respect for those who suffer, and a commitment to do what we can to make things better for those who struggle with tremendous pain and constant impending tragedy.
Thank you again for your friendship and support for this important cause!  If you are in a position to do so and feel so inspired, Pam’s fundraising page can be found here.
Grant Finlayson
Chief Towelholding Officer
Team Hydro Foundation  
Pictured left to right: Grant, Sam, Pam, Kate, and Peter Finlayson

A look back: Q&A with the oldest man ever to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco

Last Summer, Charles Cantoni entered the icy waters off Alcatraz Island with Team Hydro to swim to San Francisco to raise funds an awareness for hydrocephalus research.  At 87 years young, he became the oldest person ever to do so.   Mr. Cantoni and his family plan to be at Aquatic Park again this year to cheer on his fellow Team Hydro Family of swimmers.  As we ramp-up for this years swim, we paused for a moment to catch up with him as he reflects on his accomplishments from a year ago!

TEAM HYDRO (TH): It has been one year since you became the oldest person ever to participate in the Alcatraz Swim.  What are your thoughts as you reflect back on the experience?

CHUCK CANTONI (CC): Looking back, I’m glad I was able to do the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, at age 87. Really pleased with my donors coming up with $18,000. Team Hydro is a first class foundation. I swam with a great bunch of swimmers, some very fast, none slower than me. The time I spent over close to 3 years in preparation for the swim was worth ever minute (swimming over 500 miles for endurance, learning about wet suits and learning to open water swim).

Photos from the 2023 swim are proudly displayed at Mr Cantoni’s home

TH:  It was wonderful to have you with us, and we are so happy you were up for the challenge.  Your family has a personal connection to hydrocephalus, would you mind sharing a little bit about your family’s experience?

CC: Our third son Jason was born in 1972. He was afflicted with hydrocephalus at birth. On day 2 of his life he had his first shunt implanted, to be followed by more than 20 surgeries throughout his 51 years. We faced an unknown future but decided “we can do this.” Jason has lived and worked in Fairbanks, Alaska for 17 years and now resides in California. The keys for our family were to learn all about hydrocephalus, to be a team mate to Jason in working through all of the medical factors and to “Never Give Up.”

Mr. Cantoni pictured on race day with his wife Bonnie, and swimmate Steve Haney

TH:  Perseverance is certainly something we can all learn from the examples of the brave folks like Jason who are afflicted with hydrocephalus.  How did you find out about Team Hydro?  What led you to decide to join the Team Hydro Family?

CC: We found out about Team Hydro through their relationship with the Hydrocephalus Association.  We joined the Team Hydro family to do our part to support hydrocephalus medical research and to help create awareness of hydrocephalus.

TH: We’ve been partnering with the hydrocephalus organization for over 15 years to increase funding for research — we are so delighted to felt inspired to join the cause like you did!  It sounds like you had a great experience during the swim.  What is one of your fondest memories from participating in the Team Hydro Alcatraz Swim for Hydrocephalus Research?

CC: My fondest memories are definitely of the generous response of my donors. Not only their donations, but the communication that went on between these generous folks and myself. If you are thinking of donating, include a message of encouragement (the donation software allows for it). You will then have a very appreciative happy swimmer. We all need an atta boy now and then!

TH: What, if anything, surprised you about your experience?

CC:  Well, first off, I was surprised at how wet suits work and how to get in and out of them. Never had one in all these years. I was also surprised and happy that we could raise $18,000 (we started out with a goal of $5,000).

TH: So awesome that you continue to challenge yourself and learn and experience new things!  How has becoming a member of the Team Hydro community impacted you and/or your family?

CC: We’re very pleased to see the work of the foundation regarding hydrocephalus. We’re very encouraged to see the research dollars being raised by Team Hydro go 100% to the grants. Oh, and Sam and Peter – they’re the best.

Mr. Cantoni (center) exits the bay with fellow swimmers Tom Coury (left) Steve Haney (rear) and Peter Finlayson

TH: You’re too kind.  We are thrilled to be able to associate with so many amazing folks, like you and your son Jason and your wife, in the Team Hydro Family.  We’re always looking for terrific people to welcome into the fold — be it as researchers, swimmers, towel-holders, or donors.  What would you say to someone thinking about making a contribution to Team Hydro?  

CC:  There are a lot of fund raising activities going on that involve physical activities such as walk-a-thons, etc. Your swimmer who is asking for the donation is likely stepping out of his/her comfort zone to brave the chilly waters of the San Francisco Bay. Your donation will help convince them that the trip is worth it !!!

TH: There is nothing like the Team Hydro Alcatraz Swim for Hydrocephalus Research, that’s for sure!  Our volunteer model ensures that 100% of the funds received from the swim go directly to research, so in addition to supporting the swimmer, donors can be confident they are making the most out of their donation dollars.  Looking ahead to Saturday, 82 swimmers will be joining the cause again this year, many for the first time.  What advice do you have for them? 

CC:  Far be it for me to give advice to those who know so much more about swimming than I do. Instead, I would say “Just go do it.” When you are half way across, spin around and take in the view. Darn few people ever get that chance. I tried that but the 2 foot chop obscured my view. May calm waters be with you.

TH:  The Bay Swim is certainly an incredibly unique experience.  Is there anything else you’d like to share?

CC: Well, yes. A very hearty thank you to you swimmers for jumping into the Bay to raise funds for hydrocephalus research. If you stop and think about it, it’s getting to San Francisco the hard way. And an equally hearty thank you to you donors for your kindness and generosity. WELL DONE.

TH: Thank you so much for your continued support and love for Team Hydro, Mr. Cantoni.  We look forward to seeing you at Aquatic Park!

Malvern Prep Water Polo Team Swims from Alcatraz with Team Hydro for Hydrocephalus Research

Hydrocephalus is a neurological condition impacting ~1 million Americans; there is no cure and the only treatments require brain surgery. The Friars are using the talents they honed in the pool to swim from Alcatraz to support this worthy cause!

San Francisco, CA. The Team Hydro Foundation will host the 19th Alcatraz Swim for Hydrocephalus Research on August 19th, 2023. This year, the Boy’s Water Polo Team from Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern, PA will take the plunge into the icy-cold waters off the notorious Alcatraz Island. The Friars will use the swim to kick-off their rigorous pre-season training trip to Northern California.  This event highlights the schools Augustinian Core Values of  Truth, Unity, Love.

“My family have been big swimmers and water polo players since we were kids. We started swimming when my sister needed physical therapy as part of her rehab from brain trauma associated with her hydrocephalus.  She developed into a Championship swimmer, and my brother and I both played Division 1 water polo at Stanford.  Our sister Kate loved swimming, but unfortunately her life was cut short by hydrocephalus,” said Peter Finlayson, Co-Founder of Team Hydro. “To see the Water Polo community rally around the cause like this really means a lot; it is inspiring to see these young men willing to look beyond themselves as part of Team Hydro!”  

The Friars will contend for the Inter-Ac title again this season, and their coach Jay Schiller is delighted to get the campaign underway by challenging the boys to accomplish together something that was thought to be impossible for decades, while giving back to the world around them.  Peter will help out the Friars this fall as a volunteer assistant coach.

“As soon as I learned about Team Hydro and the ground-breaking research that Team Hydro is enabling, and the amazing cause I knew that it was something we had to be a part of,” said Coach Schiller. “Our team is hoping to be able to raise at least $5,000 towards the overall goal of $100,000!  The boys are looking forward to it, and I’ve decided to join them myself!”

Dr. Samuel Finlayson, MD, PhD, is a Team Hydro co-founder who helps direct Team Hydro’s peer-reviewed research grant process in conjunction with the Hydrocephalus Association. “At Team Hydro, we take our founding mission to help cure hydrocephalus very seriously”, he says. “This means directing every dollar donated for research into projects designed to uncover novel mechanisms of disease and/or to design and develop new treatments. It also means building up a research community by investing in up-and-coming researchers in the field to help them secure large follow-on grants from public and private organizations.” To date, this approach has been very successful: Team Hydro has funded a dozen research projects on three continents, which together have already identified several new potential therapies and secured >10x multiplier in follow-up funding from government agencies. “Seeing this next generation of athletes join the cause is a great reminder both of where we have come from, and all the excitement we have for work yet to come.”

100% of funds raised by the Team Hydro Swim for Hydrocephalus Research will go directly toward funding these important hydrocephalus research grants.

You can support the Friars and the cause by making a tax-deductible donation at: