They called him “the boy born without a brain.” But now, six years later, Noah Wall’s brain is 80 percent of the size of a normal brain—and he continues to defy the odds.
At 20 weeks pregnant, Shelly and Rob Wall received some devastating news: their unborn child had spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which causes the skull to fill with fluid and the head to expand. There was fear that the baby would not survive outside of the womb because there is a high mortality rate attached to hydrocephaly due to the fact that the area of the brain that controls breathing might be compromised or damaged.
But when Noah was born, he let out a scream—and the Wall’s journey to help their son thrive despite his illness began. Doctors put a shunt in his head to help drain the fluid, and everyone hoped for the best.
At Noah’s first post-birth scan, the found something shocking—Noah had only two percent of his brain. He was able to eat, breathe, and drink because his brain stem was intact, says Dr. Gregory Scott, a neuroscience researcher at Imperial College London.
When Noah was three, he had a second brain scan. Doctors were surprised to see that Noah’s brain had grown. Dr. Scott suggests that the shunt may have helped make space for Noah’s brain to grow. But honestly, no one really has the right answer. The brain is mysterious, and we still know so little about how it functions.
Now, Noah is enjoying being a kid. He has lots of emotional support from his family, who homeschool him. He receives “brain training” which involves receiving physical and mental input like math and reading exercises, to help stimulate him. And Noah is constantly improving. He’s beginning to read and he’s great on the iPad. He can hold conversations.
Noah hasn’t received a brain scan since he was three, so it will be interesting to see how much his brain has grown when he does have an updated scan. Until then, his body is developing at a normal rate.
Noah and his family continue to face challenges, but his mom says he’s the joy of the family.
“I thank him every night before he goes to bed. I say ‘Noah, thank you for such a lovely day. I’ve loved my day.’ And he’ll say ‘I love you, Mummy. Night night.’”