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Doctors Let Violinist Perform During Brain Surgery To Protect Her Ability To Play

When 53-year-old Dagmar Turner was diagnosed with a large grade 2 glioma after suffering a seizure, she was worried she would never be able to play the violin again. Turner, a violinist who plays in the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra and other choral societies, underwent radiotherapy to keep the tumor at bay, but it soon became apparent that the tumor had grown and become more aggressive. Surgery would have to happen.

That’s when something unusual happened. During surgery, doctors allowed for Turner to play the violin. Now the video of that operating room performance has gone viral, and folks are inspired by Turner’s dedication to her passion as well as her doctors’ commitment to care.

No, the doctors didn’t feel like an impromptu concert. The unique approach was taken to ensure that areas of the patient’s brain responsible for hand movement and coordination were not inadvertently harmed during the delicate procedure.

“We knew how important the violin is to Dagmar so it was vital that we preserved function in the delicate areas of her brain that allowed her to play. We managed to remove over 90% of the tumor, including all the areas suspicious of aggressive activity, while retaining full function in her left hand,” said Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, a neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital in London where the surgery was performed.

Turner’s tumor was located near an area that controls the fine movement of her left hand—essential for violin playing. Dr. Ashkan, also a musician, was sensitive to Turner’s concern over losing her ability to control the instrument. Dr. Ashkan and the neurosurgical team at King’s came up with a plan to help them best perform the procedure without affecting Turner’s ability to play. They mapped her brain to identify areas that were active when she played the violin and areas responsible for controlling language and movement.

dagmarturner

Then the wild part: they talked with Turner about the idea of waking up mid-procedure to play the violin. With her permission, Turner was put under anesthesia and a craniotomy was performed. Then she was brought out, and while her tumor was removed, Turner played the violin while being closely watched by the medical team.

“King’s is one of the largest brain tumor centers in the UK. We perform around 400 resections (tumor removals) each year, which often involves rousing patients to carry out language tests, but this was the first time I’ve had a patient play an instrument,” said Ashkan.

Turner—who has a 13-year-old son—recovered from her surgery and was well enough to go home with her family three days later. The prognosis looks good, and Turner is excited for the future.

“The violin is my passion; I’ve been playing since I was ten years old,” she said. “The thought of losing my ability to play was heart-breaking but, being a musician himself, Professor 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. Thanks to them, I’m hoping to be back with my orchestra very soon.”

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