Health Beat: Deadly brain drain: Fixing a leaky skull

Posted: 2:48 PM EDT May 21, 2013   Updated: 5:43 PM EDT May 21, 2013

What one woman thought was allergies turned out to be something far more serious, but fortunately a new technique helped her survive.

More and more types of surgeries are switching to new, minimally or non-invasive surgeries. This is the story of how one of these new methods helped save one woman.

When a clear fluid began to drip from Aundrea Aragon’s nose, her doctor suspected it was a bad allergy.  

“They just said, you know, 'It should clear up. You’ll be fine,'" she explained.

The fluid, however, wouldn’t stop pouring out. It got so bad, she was going through at least three rolls of paper towels a week. 

"I was choking on the fluid at night, so it kept waking me up,” Aragon said.

Then, after six months, she got a new diagnosis. A tiny crack in her skull was allowing brain fluid to pour out.

“Her left sinus space is full of fluid. Those bacteria living in your nose can crawl up in the brain and basically cause a fatal infection," explained Dr. Michael Lemole,  professor & chief of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona.

Lemole helped fix Aragon's leak with a unique endoscopic operation. Instead of opening up her skull, he went up her nose. 

"We can plug it from below, and we don’t have to subject the brain to that trauma," Lemole said.

Surgeons used neuro-navigation to find the crack. They took tissue from Aragon's nose and belly to seal the leak.

"She is very lucky not to have gotten meningitis," said Lemole.

Now, Aragon's feeling better and doctors said her prognosis is excellent.

The endoscopic procedure is effective in 95 to 99 percent of selected cases.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Michael Lemole about treating fixing a leaking skull