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Beyond literature: Roald Dahl's personal need driving medical innovation

Gemma Tria 于 2023-09-19 11:34 分享

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Roald Dahl, the beloved author of children's literature, had a profound interest in medicine, largely fueled by personal family tragedies. His connection to medicine was deepened by the health challenges faced by his son, Theo, and his first wife, Patricia Neal.

In 1965, Dahl's wife Patricia suffered a severe brain hemorrhage that led to a stroke. This left her unable to speak and paralyzed on her right side. Dahl was intimately involved in her rehabilitation process and was dissatisfied with the minimal rehabilitation that was being offered. He initiated a daily six-hour rehab regime for her, leading to significant improvement in her condition and eventually allowing her to return to her acting career. During her recovery, Patricia would sometimes invent new words when she was unable to find the ones she wanted to use. This experience with neologisms influenced Dahl's work, particularly in the creation of the unique language used by the character, the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), in The BFG book. The BFG speaks in a playful, mixed-up language that Dahl called "gobblefunk", which includes many made-up words, much like the ones his wife used during her recovery. Dahl's approach to his wife's rehabilitation was documented in a guide he wrote, which was adopted widely, significantly contributing to the field of stroke rehabilitation.

In addition to his wife's stroke, Dahl's connection to medicine was also deepened by the health challenges faced by his son, Theo. Theo suffered from hydrocephalus, a condition caused by a buildup of fluid in the brain, following a car accident. This led Dahl to collaborate with neurosurgeon Kenneth Till and hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade to invent the "Wade-Dahl-Till" (WDT) valve in 1962. A standard shunt installed to drain excess fluid from his brain frequently jammed, causing pain, blindness, and risking further brain damage. The team designed a new mechanism using two metal discs each located in a restrictive housing at the end of a short silicone rubber tube. The invention, characterized by low resistance, ease of sterilization, no reflux, robust construction, and negligible risk of blockage, was used successfully in thousands of operations and is a testament to Dahl's unique contribution to medicine. The WDT valve was taken into production in 1962, and the first patient was treated around June 1962. The WDT valve was estimated to have been used in two to 3,000 children worldwide before it was superseded by novel types of valves.

Despite his fame as a writer, Dahl's impact on the medical field is a remarkable facet of his life.


DISCLAIMER: This story was written by someone who is not the author of the solution, therefore please be advised that, although it was written with the utmost respect for the innovation and the innovator, there can be some incorrect statements. If you find any errors please contact the patient Innovation team via info@patient-innovation.com


Roald Dahl was a renowned British author known for his captivating children's books. The co-inventors of the WDT valve were Kenneth Till, a prominent neurosurgeon, and Stanley Wade, a skilled hydraulic engineer. Their collaboration led to a medical device that significantly improved the lives of many patients. Dahl's personal experiences drove him to invent out of necessity, and his legacy extends far beyond literature, demonstrating the profound impact one can have when driven by personal need.

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