Roald Dahl Helped Develop A Shunt That Saved The Lives Of Almost 3,000 Children Across The World

by : Cameron Frew on : 23 Jul 2020 11:31
Roald Dahl Helped Develop A Shunt That Saved The Lives Of Almost 3,000 Children Across The WorldRoald Dahl Story Company

Before Roald Dahl conjured Willy Wonka, Matilda and the BFG, he developed a groundbreaking shunt which saved the lives of nearly 3,000 children across the world. 

Between serving as a fighter pilot in the Second World War – where he single-handedly took on six German bombers, among other amazing feats – and earning his iconic namesake as a children’s author, Dahl made an invaluable contribution to healthcare.


On December 5, 1960, Dahl’s son Theo was severely injured. As his nanny pushed the baby carriage off the pavement, a taxi whirled round the corner and smashed into it, sending it 40ft in the air and into the side of a parked bus. Theo’s head took the full impact, leading to a shattered skull and a hydrocephalus diagnosis.

Roald Dahl Family PA Images

The NHS describes hydrocephalus as ‘a build-up of fluid in the brain… the excess fluid puts pressure on the brain, which can damage it’. Theo underwent several operations to drain the fluid, but continued to struggle. His head felt ‘like a bag of marbles’, The Telegraph reports.

Dahl, never one to sit about and wait for good news, got to work alongside Stanley Wade, a toymaker and hydraulic engineer, and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital neurosurgeon Kenneth Till.


Within a year, they created the Dahl-Wade-Till (DWT) valve, ‘no more than two centimetres long with six tiny moving steel parts inside it’ that would alleviate Theo’s blocked shunt – a tube used to drain fluid into his heart, which had become a recurring problem.

Wade-Dahl-Till ValveWikimedia Commons

The improved shunt valve was described as having ‘low resistance, ease of sterilisation, no reflux, robust construction, and negligible risk of blockage’, helping to save the lives of almost 3,000 children around the globe.

Surprisingly, Dahl’s interest in healthcare is well-documented. In his 1986 autobiography Going Solo, he wrote: ‘All my life I have taken an intense and inquisitive interest in every form of medicine,’ describing the prospect of being an expert in the field as his ‘dreams of glory’.

Roald Dahl PA Images

With specific regards to neurology, he also noted a period of time in the war when he was blind, which sparked an ‘instinctive habit of translating sounds and scents into a coloured mental picture’.

Dahl passed away on November 23, 1990, but his legacy lives on through Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, which aims to ‘help and empower every seriously ill child to lead a marvellous life’. So far, it’s managed to fund 78 Specialist Children’s Roald Dahl Nurses who care for over 21,000 children across the UK.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Life, Healthcare, history, medicine, Now, Roald Dahl


The Telegraph and 1 other
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  2. Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity

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