On September 13 we wish a very happy birthday to the fantastic Mr. Dahl.

Roald Dahl, photograph by Carl Van Vechten QS:P170,Q312851, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

While we are familiar with his incredible characters, from the book-loving Matilda to the vile Grandma from George’s Marvellous Medicine, it may come as a surprise that his most remarkable creation was not a story or a larger than life character.  

Arguably his greatest invention was that of a cranial shunt used in the treatment of infants suffering from hydrocephalus

Wade, S. C. (1966). Hydrocephalus shunt pump 1. (This appears to be a later version of the shunt. For diagrams of the original Wade-Dahl-Till shunt, see [4]) 

Dahl’s son, Theo, was hit by a car when he was four months old and developed hydrocephalus, which required the implantation of a stent into his head to help drain fluid. The shunt was found to continually clog. 2

Dahl worked with a toymaker, Stanley Wade, and Theo’s paediatric surgeon, Kenneth Till, and together they invented the Wade-Dahl-Till shunt. The new design not only prevented clogging, but was also much less expensive than the shunt that was currently in use.3

Although the Wade-Dahl-Till shunt was superseded a couple of years after it went into production in 1962, it is estimated to have been used to treat between two and three thousand children during that period. 4  

More to explore

Interested in learning more about patents? Take a look at our patents research guide.

Learn more about Roald Dahl in the following ebooks:

Roald Dahl by Mark I. West

Deconstructing Dahl by Laura Vinas Valle

Or for kids big and small, listen to an audio play of Roald Dahl’s Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

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  1. Wade, S. C. (1966). Hydrocephalus shunt pump. (US Patent no. US3233610).  United States Patent
  2. Ranscombe, P. (2015). Roald Dahl and the big friendly neuroscientist. The Lancet Neurology, 14(12), 1159. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(15)00180-5 
  3. As above
  4. Buis, D., & Mandl, E. (2011). Roald Dahl’s contribution to neurosurgery: The Wade-Dahl-Till shunt. Acta Neurochirurgica, 153(2), 429-30. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00701-010-0834-z

This article has 1 comment

  1. Loving Jodi’s posts. Fascinating. I love libraries and librarians

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