Dahl’s Contribution to Medicine

My fascination with author Roald Dahl is well-documented throughout this blog. One of my friends on campus, who shares my love of reading and history (and is a fan of QI) recently increased my esteem for Dahl even more.

You may remember that on Roald Dahl Day I posted about the author’s interest in the medical field.

As it turns out, he left his mark there without having to pursue a medical qualification.

In 1960, Dahl’s four-month-old son, Theo, was injured when his stroller was struck by a cab in NYC (always knew those things were dangerous). He suffered a bleed and hydrocephalus and required a (probably ventriculo-peritioneal) shunt.

The valve of the shunt was a slit-valve which clogged often, which would cause pain and blindnes and require emergency surgery. The valves of the time were expensive, made of plastic and prone to bacterial growth.

So Mr Dahl made a plan. He contacted his hydraulic-engineer friend, Stanley Wade, and together with the Neurosurgeon Kenneth Till they designed a better, more efficient valve (now called the Wade-Dahl-Till Valve). It was made of stainless steel (thus more easily sterilised and less prone to biofilms), was a low-resistance valve and consisted of two components without the thin slits, which made the clogging-potential negligible. (More advanced valves are now available, but this was a massive step forward.)

Furthermore, this valve could be provided for a fraction of the price as none of the three inventors were willing to take any compensation for their work. Experimental work and materials were also provided free of charge.

Now this is interdisciplinary and intersectoral synergism, wouldn’t you say? That such diverse individuals could reach such heights together makes me divinely happy. I do wish that more people would try their hands at such endeavours.


  1. A Valve for the Treatment of Hydrocephalus by Kenneth Till, 25 January 1964, The Lancet (from Science Direct)
  2. Wade-Dahl-Till Valve
  3. Roald Dahl


  1. nazirahidris says:

    Damn, that’s cool!

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