Patient plays violin during brain surgery

Updated 20 Feb 2020

Email

A still image take from handout video footage released by King’s College Hospital in London on February 19 and recorded on January 31, shows musician Dagmar Turner playing the violin during brain surgery at King's College Hospital in London. — King's College Hospital/AFP
A still image take from handout video footage released by King’s College Hospital in London on February 19 and recorded on January 31, shows musician Dagmar Turner playing the violin during brain surgery at King's College Hospital in London. — King's College Hospital/AFP

LONDON: A patient at a British hospital played Mahler and Gershwin on the violin while a tumour was removed from her brain so that surgeons could preserve her ability to play music and her 40-year passion for the instrument.

Dagmar Turner, 53, a former management consultant from the Isle of Wight, played her violin during an operation to remove a tumour from the right frontal lobe of her brain — close to the area that controls the fine movement of her left hand.

To prevent any damage to her violin skills, Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, Consultant Neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital, came up with a plan: they would map her brain, open the skull and then get her to play as they removed the tumour.

So, doctors mapped her brain before the surgery to identify areas that were active when she played the instrument and those responsible for controlling language and movement.

“They then woke her in mid-procedure so she could play to ensure the surgeons did not damage any crucial areas of the brain that controlled Dagmar’s delicate hand movements,” the hospital said in a statement.

While surgeons cut away part of her brain, Turner played music by Gustav Mahler, George Gershwin’s jazz classic “Summertime” and pieces by Spanish songwriter and singer Julio Iglesias.

“This was the first time I’ve had a patient play an instrument,” said Ashkan. “We managed to remove over 90 per cent of the tumour, including all the areas suspicious of aggressive activity, while retaining full function in her left hand.”

Turner, who plays in Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra and various choral societies, left the hospital three days later and hopes to return to her orchestra soon.

She was full of praise for the efforts of Ashkan, a fellow music lover. “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.”

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2020