Using a combined search of the Children's Hospital (Birmingham, Ala., USA) medical records and the Jefferson County Health Department death records, we reviewed all shunt-related deaths that occurred between January 1990 and July 1996. Of these, we excluded patients who died of nonhydrocephalus-related reasons, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, as well as patients who had other serious neurological illnesses such as brain tumor and hydranencephaly. Twenty-eight patients died of shunt-related causes in the 6.5-year period. A survival analysis showed that 96% survived 32 months after first shunting. Of 28 patients, 23 were beyond help prior to medical evaluation. However, at least 10 of these patients had symptoms suggestive of shunt failure at least 24 h and as long as 2 weeks prior to their demise. We conclude that hydrocephalic children still die of shunt failure despite the modem technology of the 1990s. Some of these causes may be avoidable through early detection of symptoms. Guidelines to patients, families, and primary caregivers should be emphasized.