Authors: Patrick David Kelly, MD; Richard Menger; Shanik Fernando, MD; Michael Wolf, MD, MS; Anthony Martino, MD (Nashville, TN)

Introduction:

On May 5th, 1961 Alan B. Shepard, Jr. piloted the Freedom 7 craft into a suborbital flight to become the first American man in space. His promising astronautical career was soon scuttled by spells of dizziness and tinnitus later diagnosed as Ménière’s disease.

Methods:

Primary and secondary sources were used in preparation of this historical vignette. 

Results:

Once diagnosed with Ménière’s, Alan Shepard was grounded and relegated to a desk job at NASA; a small chance remained, though, that he might be made flight ready once more if his Ménière’s could only be treated. In 1968 William F. House—considered the father of neurotology and a pioneer in surgery for vestibular schwannomas—implanted an endolymphatic-subarachnoid shunt, which at the time was a virtually experimental procedure. Shepard’s debilitating Ménière’s disease was cured, but not quite in time for him to pilot the doomed Apollo 13 mission; he was reassigned to Apollo 14 and as a result would step foot on the moon on February 5th, 1971. 

Conclusion:

This historical vignette depicts the tale of how the career trajectories of Alan B. Shepard, Jr. and William F. House—two notable figures in their respective fields—fatefully intersected.