NEW YORK: In an unusual surgery, a team of doctors in the US successfully removed a brain tumour from a patient while he played the saxophone in the operating room.
Dan Fabbio, a music teacher who was working towards a master’s degree in music education, was only 25-years-old when he was told he had a brain tumour in 2015. And though the tumour was not cancerous, it was pressing against the part of his brain that interprets music.
Mr Fabbio told his doctors that music was the most important thing is his life.
“Removing a tumor from the brain can have significant consequences depending upon its location,” said neurosurgeon Web Pilcher, from the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Centre. “Both the tumor itself and the operation to remove it can damage tissue and disrupt communication between different parts of the brain.”
So, doctors developed a series of cognitive musical tests that Mr Fabbio could perform while the researchers were scanning his brain.
During functional MRI (fMRI) scanning, Mr Fabbio would listen to and then hum back a series of short melodies. He also performed language tasks that required him to identify objects and repeat certain sentences.
The fMRI detects changes in oxygen levels, so the parts of the brain that were activated during the tests helped pinpoint the areas important for music and language processing.
Using this information, the research team produced a detailed 3D map of Mr Fabbio’s brain that would be used to guide the surgeons in the operating room.
Doctors wanted to ensure they could preserve Mr Fabbio’s ability to play music. So, they decided to bring his saxophone into the operating room and have him play during the procedure.
Doctors selected a modified version of a Korean folk song that could be played with short and shallow breaths so Mr Fabbio could play while lying on his side during surgery – when his brain would be fully exposed.
Once the tumor had been removed, the surgeons gave the go-ahead to bring over the saxophone and let Mr Fabbio play.
“It made you want to cry,” said Professor Elizabeth Marvin, a music professor who was present in the operating room and monitoring Mr Fabbio’s ability to play. “He played (the saxophone) flawlessly and when he finished the entire operating room erupted in applause.”
Mr Fabbio has since completely recovered and has returned to teaching music.
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