That’s right, this Saturday, June 7th, over 100 swimmers will don special Team Hydro/Sharkfest swim caps before jumping off a ferry to swim the strong, icy currents from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in San Francisco! These brave, and dedicated Team Hydro Swimmers, all affectionately called “HydroSharks”, are using their swim to raise awareness and research funds to battle a life-threatening and incurable condition called Hydrocephalus.*
Team Hydro is also very proud to report that among the ranks this year, will be THREE Team Hydro Cap-wearing Swimmers who will be covering heads which also happen to be implanted with special devices called “shunts”–the most common form of treatment for hydrocephalus patients (and upon which, their lives depend!!)! (A “shunt” is a catheter and valve system placed in the brain, to regulate the brain’s cerebral spinal fluid –without a working shunt, most persons with hydrocephalus will suffer coma and die.)
The fact that hydrocephalus is a difficult unpredictable condition that can happen to anyone at anytime, is proven by the stories of the Team Hydro members swimming with the condition:
First time Alcatraz swimmer, 17 year old Kate Damrell suffered a congenital form of hydrocephalus diagnosed when she was 7 months old. Shortly after Kate was born, it was determined that she suffered from a condition where the bones in her skull, normally separate at birth, had prematurely fused together. Little Kate Damrell underwent a very long and painful skull surgery to correct that condition at 7 months, and received her first shunt for hydrocephalus when she was just a year and half old. Since that time Kate has required one shunt revision, as well as another difficult surgery near her brainstem at the base of her skull, in order to keep her hydrocephalus under control. But this has not stopped Kate from approaching life with vigor. Kate swims for her high school swim team, and is active at school and in her community. Still, having hydrocephalus has not been easy–in addition to the grueling surgeries, Kate lives with the uncertainty that her shunt could break at any time. Kate’s father Frank will swim alongside Kate as they raise funds and awareness for research!
The possibillity of a shunt breaking or malfunctioning, is something, second-time Alcatraz swimmer Ryan Purdy understands well! Ryan, who hails from La Jolla, CA swam his first Escape from Alcatraz Sharkfest very successfully in 2012! He was all ready to swim last year, but a shunt revision placed him in the hospital instead. BUT even BRAIN SURGERY could not stop Ryan from swimming again for the Cause! Ryan returns this year ready to complete his 2nd Alcatraz swim for Team Hydro! [Update: Ryan tragically slipped a disc in his back, and will be unable to swim this year. But he’ll be back in 2015!]
Team Hydro’s third member is 16 year old Kyle Voulgaris. Kyle, a high school student from Santa Barbara, was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when severe symptoms suddenly began for him at age 5. Fortunately, Kyle’s shunts have worked well for him so far, allowing him to grow into a fast and strong swimmer! Kyle, though seemingly so young to many of us, will already be completing his 5th Alcatraz Escape this year (where he often has been found atop the winner’s podium for his age-group) and has worked hard to raise funds to help promote hydrocephalus research. This year Kyle has already secured over $6,000 in donations!! Way to Go Kyle!!
Team Hydro is so proud of each and every one of our swimmers, sponsors, and on-land supporters, but we hope each of you Hydro-Sharks will understand our wanting to give a special “shout-out” to Kyle, Ryan, and Kate! Their willingness to look past their own struggles, and work for the benefit of others who suffer their same condition (but often aren’t so lucky as to be able to live full and active lives), is truly INSPIRING !!
So on behalf of all your fellow Team Hydro Teammates: GO KATE! GO RYAN! GO KYLE! We are especially proud to be and honored by swimming alongside each of you!!
*Hydrocephalus is a neurological condition which occurs when the body is unable to properly regulate the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, or CSF in the brain. It can affect people of any age from babies in utero, to aging adults. An over-abundance of CSF causes a person to experience debilitating headaches, and memory issues. Shunts, while miraculous when working, are notoriously prone to breakage, clogging, and failure. Patients often must under go numerous brain surgeries to replace their shunts and stay alive and sadly, 60% of children diagnosed with hydrocephalus will never live independently as adults. Team Hydro is working to fund research which will hopefully, one day find a replacement treatment for the shunt, or better yet–a cure for this difficult, life-threatening disease.