Beyond Closed Eyes: Brain Surgery, a Violinist and Her Music

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Dagmar Turner, 53, played the violin during an operation on Jan. 31 at King’s College Hospital in London to help prevent damage that would affect her talent.

Dagmar Turner learned of her tumor after a seizure at a symphony. Her one concern was her motor skills and her music. An accomplished neurosurgeon knew he had to cut the bad tissue out with the utmost meticulousness.



Turner played while staff operated. The success of the operation is now celebrated in hospitals around the world. Today surgeons know enough to keep patients awake during such surgeries. They give them language tests or ask to define the colors or describe the presented pictures to best determine where tumor is located and preserve the vital skills and functions such as speech and movement.

“Twenty years ago the priority would have been to preserve basic movement in a patient,” Keyoumars Ashkan, the neurosurgeon who oversaw Turner’s delicate operation, 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.”


Dagmar Turner, 53, played the violin during an operation on Jan. 31 at King's College Hospital in London to help prevent damage that would affect her talent.

Dagmar Turner had a tumor in her brain’s right frontal lobe, not far from the tissue that gave her left hand control over her violin. After radiotherapy the tumor continued to grow and she needed a surgery. It was a good thing Turner was right-handed. The surgery of the right side of her brain, where the tumor was located, would affect only movements on her left side, she was told.

But to play violin one needs both hands. Turner plays the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra. It is her passion since she was 10.

 “The thought of losing my ability to play was heartbreaking,” Turner said in a statement released by King’s College Hospital.

The medical team mapped parts of Turner’s brain involved in music and language skills. Turner was under general anesthesia while the operation, but was wide awake during the tumor’s removal. She played Gershwin, Mahler and many more.


Dagmar Turner, 53, played the violin during an operation on Jan. 31 at King's College Hospital in London to help prevent damage that would affect her talent.

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It was remarkable but it was not the first case of such sort. In 2018, a woman played her flute in Texas during deep brain stimulation that was needed to stop involuntary tremors. There was also a case in South Africa when a jazz musician played his guitar during the brain tumor removal.


In 2018, a woman played her flute in Texas during deep brain stimulation that was needed to stop involuntary tremors.
There was also a case in South Africa when a jazz musician played his guitar during the brain tumor removal.

A few years ago a French woman sang through the removal of a throat tumor. Decades ago doctors kept their patients awake during epilepsy treatment British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh was talking with his patient while removing the tumor without affecting his speech and personality.


A few years ago a French woman sang through the removal of a throat tumor.

Nowadays these methods are accepted as a standard. They help to preserve vital abilities. Turner went home three days after the surgery. She is already back to playing her violin.


Turner went home three days after the surgery. She is already back to playing her violin.

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