Patient Plays Violin During Brain Surgery

Surgery can seem like an especially nerve-wrecking experience as your operation date nears, but we always tell patients to focus on all the things they’ll be able to do again assuming their operation is successful. For other patients, simply maintaining the status quo is all they want following a surgical procedure. That was the case for Dagmar Turner, who wanted to ensure she would still be able to play the violin following a brain surgery operation.

The 53-year-old Turner is a professional violinist who was worried that a surgical procedure to remove a brain tumor would render her incapable of playing her favorite instrument at the professional level. The tumor had formed in her right frontal lobe, which is dangerously close to the area of her brain that helps coordinate the intricate movements of her left hand. In some regions, their distance from the tumor was narrower than the width of a toothpick.

Before she went under the knife, neurosurgeons carefully mapped her brain to identify areas that were active when she played the violin. They then talked with Turner to see if she would be comfortable being woken up mid-procedure so she could play, ensuring that no crucial areas were interrupted during the tumor removal. Turner was on board, so surgery was scheduled.

Playing The Violin During A Craniotomy

Dr. Keyoumars Ashkan and colleagues began the craniotomy procedure and then woke Turner up from anesthetic sleep. She then began to play the violin while being closely monitored by a team of anesthetics and therapists. Surgeons successfully removed the tumor, all while avoiding any damage to Turner’s ability to the violin.

“We perform around 400 resections (tumor removals) each year, which often involves rousing patients to carry out language tests, but this was the first time I’ve had a patient play an instrument,” said Dr. Ashkan.“We knew how important the violin is to Dagmar so it was vital that we preserved function in the delicate areas of her brain that allowed her to play. We managed to remove over 90 percent of the tumor, including all the areas suspicious of aggressive activity, while retaining full function in her left hand.”

Turner also spoke about the procedure.

“The violin is my passion; I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old. The thought of losing my ability to play was heart-breaking but, being a musician himself, Prof Ashkan understood my concerns. He and the team at King’s went out of their way to plan the operation – from mapping my brain to planning the position I needed to be in to play.

Turner said she hopes to be back with her orchestra very soon.

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