A procedure one might expect to see only on an episode of popular television show Grey’s Anatomy actually occurred at a London hospital recently as a patient played the violin while undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Dagmar Turner, 53, has had a passion for playing the violin since she was 10, and she is currently a member of the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra. So losing the ability to play because of a brain tumor was an especially frightening scenario for her.
During a symphony performance in 2013, Turner suffered a seizure that brought to light the slow-growing brain tumor. Located on the right frontal lobe of her brain, it threatened to damage her left hand’s fine motor skills — the hand that controls the notes being played on the violin.
According to King’s College Hospital, where Turner was treated, her first course of treatment was radiotherapy. But after that proved unsuccessful and the tumor continued to grow, surgery became the next best option. Surgery put her hand mobility and playing abilities at risk, though, and it was a possibility Turner could not ignore.
It was neurosurgeon consultant Keyoumars Ashkan, a professor at the college, who understood firsthand Turner’s concerns about the surgery, since he is an accomplished pianist with a music degree.
So they designed a plan specifically for Turner’s January 31 surgery. First, her brain was mapped, allowing doctors to recognize and identify sections that were active while she played the violin, as well as sections that dictated movement and language.
Then, halfway through surgery, Turner would be awakened to play her violin so surgeons could avoid the sections of her brain that were active as she moved her hands to play. With the brain having no pain receptors, Turner was able to be fully awake and performing as the tumor was removed.
Turner’s surgery was a success, and she was released from the hospital and back home in just three days. She plans to resume playing soon in the orchestra.