Brave Violinist Plays Violin During Brain Surgery

She played her violin to "light up" the parts of her brain with which the surgeons were not supposed to fiddle.
Brad Bergan

A professional violinist played the violin while surgeons at King's College Hospital in London removed a brain tumor, says the Associated Press.


Violinist plays her way through brain surgery

Doctors of the violinist, a 53-year-old named Dagmar Turner, mapped her brain pre-op to locate areas active while playing the violin, and also areas in control of language and movement functions. The doctors then woke her mid-procedure, so she could play to "ensure the surgeons did not damage any crucial areas of her brain that controlled Dagmar's delicate hand movements," while they removed the tumor, said the hospital in a statement reported by TIME.

"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," said her neurosurgeon, Keymoumars Ashkan. "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."

Turner plays in the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra and several choral societies and left the hospital three days later. She hopes to rejoin her orchestra shortly, and praised Ashkan, who also loves music.

"The thought of losing my ability to play was heart-breaking but, being a musician himself, Professor Ashkan understood my concerns," she said to Time. "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."

The brain surgery violinists have a canon

Believe it or not, this has happened before. In 2014, professional violinist Roger Frisch played his violin during brain surgery, according to a CNET report. His surgeons — at the Mayo Clinic Neural Engineering Lab — worked to implant a brain pacemaker, in hopes of steadying Frisch's hand tremors.

The implant is normally used to treat diseases like Parkinson's, major depression, Tourette syndrome, tremors, and chronic pain. The surgery was a success, and Frisch played with the Minnesota Orchestra three short weeks later.

Whether it's to save musical gifts or restore them, playing the violin during brain surgery is a sobering reminder of just how magnificent the brain is — and, by implication — our rapidly-advancing medical ability to preserve it.

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