Why this woman played the violin during her brain surgery

violin
Credit: King's College Hospital

Eyes closed, Dagmar Turner ran through scales as doctors huddled behind her to peer into her open brain.

A violinist who learned of her tumor after a seizure at a symphony, Turner was anxious about losing the motor skills key to her music. The neurosurgeon knew he had to cut the bad tissue out with the utmost precision.

So he had Turner play from her London hospital bed — while staff operated.

The scene was a testament to the success of a once-contentious procedure now embraced in hospitals around the world. Surgeons working close to parts of the brain that control important functions such as speech or movement routinely keep patients awake to best determine where tumor gives way to something vital.

King’s College Hospital, which treated Turner, often gives people language tests during such surgeries, said Keyoumars Ashkan, the neurosurgeon who oversaw Turner’s delicate operation, and who also happens to be a musician.

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“Twenty years ago the priority would have been to preserve basic movement in a patient,” Ashkan told the Sunday Times. “We wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to protect the finest, most delicate, most absolute, critical executive aspect of movement needed in a violinist.”

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