Girl gets bolt in skull in battle against brain condition

Katie Williamson has a rare illness,
Katie Williamson has a rare illness,
Have your say

A TEENAGER has had a bolt inserted into her skull as she battles a rare brain condition.

Katie Williamson, 17, 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.

Mum Michelle, from Biddick, Washington, said: “We had no idea what was wrong with her at first.

“She just suddenly lost most of her eyesight. It was absolutely terrifying.”

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 Michelle.

“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 said.

“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.”

Mum-of-three Michelle, who helps run the IIH UK support charity, said that although Katie’s eyesight was no longer under threat, her other symptoms could return.

“No one can predict what will happen in the future,” said Michelle. “More surgery is likely. We know that much.”

However, the student at East Durham College, Houghall, near Durham City, is refusing to allow the affliction to hold her back.

As well as being a keen horserider 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.”

For more information about the IIH, visit or

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho