The Intrepid Traveler: Machu Pichu, Here I Come!

August 2010 065

From the travel journal of Gina Barbaro
Entry #1: Planning my trip to Machu Pichu, Peru

Having had a shunt implant just one year ago, I still had lots to learn about Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH). What limitations might it present for me? Would I be able to travel as I like? Where I want? These were realistic questions for me to contemplate. Although I am doing well at sea level in Baltimore, Maryland, where I live, I wondered if any symptoms would return during an anticipated vacation to Machu Picchu, Peru, where the altitude is 8000 feet. I also wondered if I would be more prone to altitude sickness.

I sought some answers by contacting the Hydrocephalus Association, which did a literature search and sent me three studies. The studies, although somewhat inconclusive due to small sample sizes involving few shunt models, found that no additional risk of altitude sickness or return of symptoms would arise in individuals with shunts. Finally, after consulting with a local neurologist at a Hydrocephalus Community Support Group meeting, I received confirmation that there would be no greater risks for individuals with shunts, and thus had the green light for my trip.

With this news I confidently made preparations for my trip. I requested copies of a recent MRI, the MRI report and medical notes of the shunt surgery to take with me. I went to a travel clinic and got the appropriate immunizations. Being a wise traveler, I purchased trip insurance, as is recommended for any individual with a somewhat complicated medical profile planning to travel in a foreign country far from home.

My excitement rose, and is still rising, as I look forward to the day of takeoff, knowing that my future travel destinations are in fact limitless.

Stay tuned for Gina’s next journal entry from Machu Pichu in May.

A little about Gina

Gina Barbaro is an avid walker and loves weekend road trips. Her recent travels include 4 days in Denver (5280’), one day in Vail (8120’) which included an hour at Eagle Peak (10,300’). She was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus in 2010 and currently has a shunt to treat her NPH. Since her diagnosis and treatment, her travel plans have not been deterred. She is enthusiastic to share her adventures with our community and hopes to inspire others to see the world in a responsible and well-planned way. Gina currently resides in Maryland and works for the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.


Travelling with Hydrocephalus

Travelling with hydrocephalus can pose many questions for the individuals traveling and/or for their caregivers. A well-planned trip, however, can assist in minimizing your worries and allow you to experience all of the wonder and beauty of our amazing planet. If you are ever in doubt about travel plans, do not hesitate to contact your primary doctor managing your hydrocephalus, be it a neurologist or a neurosurgeon. Below are some tips for preparing for your trip.

What to bring with you:

  • Copies of your last operative note. This usually shows what type of shunt was placed and where.
  • Copies of your last CT/MRI scans. It is helpful to have a copy of your baseline scan – what the ventricles look like when your healthy – and a scan from a time when you needed a revision. This allows any neurosurgeon to see what happens when the shunt is not working properly. You can usually obtain these by calling the radiology facility where they were taken and ask them to make you a CD.
    • In cases of slit ventricle syndrome, you may also want to take a copy of the history and physical (H&P) report that is dictated on admission to the hospital. This would usually mention that the patient has slit ventricle syndrome and the ventricles don’t dilate when there is a malfunction. You can ask your doctor to copy your operative note and H&P for you.
  • Contact information for a local neurosurgeon(s). You can also ask your neurosurgeon or neurologist for recommendations.
  • Contact information for the nearest medical facility or hospital that provides neurosurgical care.
  • A small card that notes your shunt information (make and model), contact information for your neurosurgeon and primary physician, your insurance information, and your emergency contacts. This information can also be added in your cell phone under your own contact record in your address book.
  • If travelling overseas, consider additional support through companies that offer travel medical insurance or medical evacuation insurance. This information can be found online and some major credit card companies offer these services to their members at an additional per trip fee. Please review these companies and policies carefully prior to choosing a company.


Useful links and resources:

For more detailed information on flying with hydrocephalus, read our Travelling with Hydrocephalus blog posted in March 2011 and written by Debby Buffa, member of our board of directors.

For a list of Neurosurgeons click HERE.

To find doctors outside the US visit the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Visit the Hydrocephalus Resource Library for more articles on flying and hydrocephalus (type keywords flying, barometric pressure, magnetic fields).

For medical alerts visit, MedicAlert.




One Response to “The Intrepid Traveler: Machu Pichu, Here I Come!”
  1. Lance says:

    I have had a shunt as a result of spinal menegitis since the age of only 3 months old. I had a rough couple of years early on, but have had my present shunt going on 29 years. In that time, I’ve never had any reason not to do anything, save a few thrill seeking things that involve hanging upside down. Growing up I was told no contact sports, no bumps to the head, always wear a helmet when on your motorcycle, but being a child of the 70′s helmets weren’t used on bicycles, when skiing or other sports you now see people wearing helmets. I’ve flown to Asia, and been in some good elevation skiing and never had issues. Of course you’ll want to talk to your doctor and see what they say, or recommend etc as shunts are a lot fancier than when I had mine put in in the early 70′s and revised in the early 80′s. My advice is to not let the concern of pressure or limitations be a fear. Know your limits physically and the world is your oyster. As you’ve only had your shunt a year, you naturally have concerns, etc that someone without one would not have. That being said, you’ve also had it a year and that chances of it malfunctioning in Machu Pichu aren’t much greater than from your living room if you’ve not had any issues since your implant. I hope that my words don’t come off poorly. Having a NPH is certainly a health condition to be aware of, but not something that you want to define your choices in life to be centered on. Given that my shunt was implanted when I was so young and developing, I’ve had some delays in learning, motor muscle slowness, memory issues and low frustration tolerance. I’ve managed to get where I am a successful counselor specializing in mental and chemical health and find that my expereinces help to make me a compassionate person to those who struggle. I’ve met only 2-3 people wiht hydrocephalus growing up and we all vary widely in functioning and effect but also had ours done at much younger ages (infancy to childhood). I hope that you are able to realize your dreams and that your shunt doesn’t stop you from doing anything you are physically able. Peace, love and best wishes. Lance

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