Authors: Patrick David Kelly, MD; Richard Menger; Shanik Fernando, MD; Michael Wolf, MD, MS; Anthony Martino, MD (Nashville, TN)
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.
Primary and secondary sources were used in preparation of this historical vignette.
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.
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.