The boy with no brain.

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About this work


This documentary follows the story of 4 year old Noah Wall, who was born with only 2% of his brain due to spina bifida and fluid build-up in his head (hydrocephalus). His parents Shelly and Rob were told that it was unlikely he would survive long after birth, and if he did then he would be left with significant mental and physical disabilities. Dr Claire Nicholson, a Consultant Neurosurgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, explains that the fluid build-up had been putting pressure on his brain and making it smaller. After his head had grown dangerously large Shelly underwent an emergency C-section, and doctors immediately worked to stitch up the hole in Noahs spine caused by the spina bifida and put a permanent shunt into his skull to help drain fluid. They performed an MRI scan and realised he only had 2% brain mass and was paralysed from the chest down, but by the age of 3 he was defying all expectations. Dr Greg Scott, a neuroscience researcher at Imperial College London, explains that Noahs brain stem was far less damaged, which is why he could control functions such as breathing, eating, and drinking. But this did not account for his advanced development, so Dr Nicholson organised another brain scan. They realised that somehow Noahs brain had grown from 2% at birth to nearly 80% at 3 years old. Dr Scott believes that this was thanks to the shunt in his head, which helped drain fluid and give the brain room to grow. In Hull, 6 year old Jake Gladstone was also proving the plasticity of childrens brains. He was born without most of the right side of his brain, the result of cystic encephalomalacia. While he has epilepsy and cannot use his right arm, Jake is far more advanced developmentally than doctors had ever expected. Both he and Noah are living examples of how new pathways can be formed in the brain after it has been damaged. The brain training that Rob and Shelly have been giving Noah provided the exact kind of stimulus he needed for these pathways to form. His physical health continues to be at risk due to his weakened immune system, but after an infection scare he is able to return home. The family is visited by Dr Chris Chandler, a paediatric neurosurgeon at Kings College Hospital who has been following Noahs development. Dr Chandler notes that the shunt in continuing to work perfectly, and although Noahs development is slightly delayed, there is no reason it will continue to be in another 4 years time. Dr Scott invites Shelly to speak about Noahs brain at a conference of neuroscience students in London, as he believes that Noahs development represents a potential breakthrough in his research on brain plasticity in children. The documentary ends with Noah happily celebrating his fourth birthday.



Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, colour ; 12 cm.

Copyright note

Channel 5.


Originally broadcast on 11 October 2016 on Channel 5.

Creator/production credits

Produced by Holly Cocker and directed by Kate Monaghan. Mark Three Media Production for Channel 5.
Narrated by James Norton.



Where to find it

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