health

This man played violin while surgeons operated on his brain

Image via Everyday Health

An American musician has given the most unusual, intimate performance of his life – and it happened while he was receiving brain surgery.

That’s right. Not only was he awake while surgeons operated on his brain, but he also played the violin.

Robert Frisch had a mild tremor which was causing his hands to shake periodically. While he might have otherwise chosen to live with it, the tremor’s effects would have ended his career as a concert violinist. So Frisch opted to undergo a procedure known as deep brain stimulation.

If, like us, you have no idea what deep brain stimulation involves, Everyday Health explains it as a process where surgeons implant a tiny electrode in the thalamus, the area deep inside the brain that acts as its centre for pain perception. A current is turned on, which disables the thalamus and stops the tremor. It isn’t fully understood why this procedure works.

It’s very common for patients to be awake during this procedure so surgeons can observe how, or if, the tremor reacts as they insert the electrode. Frisch’s surgeon was concerned that his tremor was so mild he wouldn’t be able to tell whether he was placing the electrode properly, so engineers at the Mayo Clinic devised a plan that would take advantage of Frisch’s musical skills.

An accelerometer – a device to measure the acceleration of Frisch’s hands – was inserted at the end of his violin bow. As he played the instrument, the surgeons were able to watch tremor as it translated into a graph, this in turn guided the procedure. And they got a private concert while they worked – talk about a win-win.

The procedure was a success – surgeons placed an electrode permanently into Frisch’s brain and equipped him with a remote that would allow him to stop tremors in their tracks when they occur.

This surgical technique has been used in recent years to treat a variety of things including Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to Mic deep brain stimulation (DBS) normalises the brain activity that goes awry in this conditions and can drastically minimise symptoms.

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