PETALUMA — To be a kid, oftentimes, is to be the lead actor in your own drama. Words, glances, clothes, hair styles, body movements, high grades, poor grades, any of them could be launch points to whispers, finger pointing or the shaking of a head. Snickering is a weapon with pointed edges, and without knowing his story it would be easy to snicker at Brock Albee for what he is about to say.
“I didn’t think I was going to live to tell this tale,” said Albee, 18, a graduate of Petaluma High School.
That sentence is indeed dramatic. Could be construed as florid. Over the top. Truth to tell, Albee may be understating his life, his situation, the road he has traveled. Fact is, Albee has climbed a mountaintop higher than most of us can imagine, to where he is standing today: He has signed a letter of intent to run cross country for Dominican University in San Rafael, a $5,000 scholarship from the Dipsea Foundation helping to finance the beginning of his college education.
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Albee’s story could begin with Bell’s palsy or being bound to a wheelchair or relearning how to speak or the seizure or being held out of school for two months or being teased in Little League, but we might as well start with the first of his four brain surgeries. Brock was 3. Caroline, his mother, received a call from a day-care provider on Nov. 1, 2000. Her young son was unconscious.
Two hours after that, Brock underwent emergency brain surgery at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. In the space of just two hours, Brock went from your normal fun-loving, active kid to surgeons taking three hours to save his life.
Brock was suffering from hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid on the brain. It is commonly referred to as “water on the brain” but actually it is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear, colorless liquid that surrounds the brain and spine. Left untreated, the condition is fatal. The Albee family believes the injury occurred from a fall resulting in the brain trauma.
“I thought I was going to lose it,” Caroline said. “I didn’t know if he was going to make it. I was waiting to see what was lost.”
For an hour after surgery, Brock remained unresponsive. Was there brain damage? Motor functions impacted? A thousand worst-case scenarios went through her head. Then came his first word: “Yummy,” as he felt the popsicle stick on his lips.
A shunt was implanted near the top of Albee’s head. It was the beginning of a 3-foot tube that would lead to his abdomen, draining away the excess CSF to where it could be absorbed into the bloodstream. He was in a wheelchair for a week, in intensive care for a month. His brain wasn’t damaged, but it was affected.
“I had to learn how to hold a spoon,” he said.
And learn how to speak and how to walk and how to eat. Albee had to learn how to be a human being again. How long a shunt remains functional before replacement varies. Some people undergo 30 shunt replacements. The first shunt was replaced by another when Albee was in kindergarten.