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Westhampton mother, daughter raise money for medical research

  • Isabella Sacharczyk, 18, of Westhampton, holds a diagram of the device that is inside her head to help drain fluid in her brain, Thursday. There will be a fundraising walk for hydrocephalus research Saturday at Hampshire Regional High School, where she is a senior. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW J. WHITAKERf

  • Bella Sacharczk, left, and her mother Denise Sacharzk pose for a photo Thursday, Sept. 22, in her home in Westhampton. Bella Sacharczk has hydrocephalus a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain and on Saturday at Hampshire Regional High School they will be walking to raise awareness and money for research. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Bella Sacharczk, 18, of Westhampton poses for a photo Thursday, Sept. 22, in her home in Westhampton. Sacharczk has hydrocephalus a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain and on Saturday at Hampshire Regional High School they will be walking to raise awareness and money for research. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Bella Sacharczk, 18, of Westhampton holds a diagram of the device that is inside her head to help her drain fluid in her brain Thursday, Sept. 22, in her home. Sacharczk has hydrocephalus a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff



Staff Writer
Friday, September 23, 2016

WESTHAMPTON — When Isabella Sacharczyk was about a month old, she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, an incurable condition known as “water on the brain.” Doctors told her parents she would not be able to walk, talk, hear or see, and recommended that Isabella be put in a home for children with those disabilities.

“We chose not to,” her mother Denise Sacharczyk said. “We were going to do whatever we had to do to give her the best quality of life.”

Today, 18-year-old Isabella is a senior at Hampshire Regional High School. She is ranked 16th in her class with a 3.95 grade point average and aspires to become a medical researcher.

To raise awareness and money for hydrocephalus research, Isabella and her mother are hosting a fundraising walk at Hampshire Regional High School from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday through the nonprofit Pediatric Hydrocephalus Foundation.

After searching for a support group, about three years ago, Isabella and Denise became involved with the organization, and now head the Massachusetts state chapter. Last year, the mother and daughter hosted their first walk at the high school. About 80 people attended and the event raised about $6,000.

The cause of hydrocephalus can vary person to person.

Isabella’s hydrocephalus was due to damage from E. coli meningitis and a related stroke.

A shunt is surgically placed to drain fluid from the brain and release pressure. Isabella has two of the devices which move fluid from one part of the body to another.

“Pretty much the shunt saves her life,” Denise said. “Without it she would die.”

Isabella has had 23 brain surgeries due to malfunctions or complications related to the shunt, with six of those surgeries were in 2011.

“One in three shunts don’t make it six months,” before malfunctioning, Isabella said. “So the odds aren’t great.”

After one surgery in 2013, Isabella had to learn how to walk again.

“She could be perfectly fine today and tomorrow she could be in the emergency room,” her mother said.

Isabella has trouble with fine motor skills, walks with a cane and experiences headaches on a daily basis. She cannot take notes in school and her memory is not great, but she spends hours studying at home, using notes provided by her teachers.

For exercise, Isabella rides a tricycle, though she joked that she “managed to fall off.” Her mother bought a matching one to go on rides with her daughter. 

“I don’t let my condition hold me back,” Isabella said.

The “Funding a Cure for Hydrocephalus” walk on Saturday will feature a bounce house, music, concession stands and a raffle. Students can volunteer at the event for community service hours.

To register or donate, visit active.com/donate/phfwalkma2016.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.