His skull still open, a South African musician with a brain tumor played several notes on his guitar during an operation to remove most of the growth. Musa Manzini's guitar-playing helped guide the medical team in their delicate task while preserving neural pathways, says neurosurgeon Dr. Rohen Harrichandparsad. Manzini was given local anesthetic during what doctors call an "awake craniotomy" this month at Durban's Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital. "It increased the margin of safety for us, in that we could have real-time feedback on what we were doing intraoperatively," Harrichandparsad tells the AP. The procedure isn't uncommon, and there've been several cases in other countries of musicians singing or playing an instrument during similar operations. The intention: to test Manzini's "ability to produce music," requiring the complex interaction of pathways in the brain, the doctor says.
In an "awake craniotomy," some doctors stimulate parts of the brain with a mild electrical current to test and map areas that control key functions, like movement and speech. If a patient struggles to speak when the current is applied to a particular area, for example, doctors know they must protect it during tumor removal. Despite the procedure's name, patients are given meds to make them sleepy during parts of the operation. Manzini was given his guitar toward the end of the procedure. A photo and video taken by the medical team show Manzini lying with his guitar in the operating room. "There you are, do your thing," a team member says as he begins playing. Starting slowly, Manzini picks out a series of notes and eases toward a tune, with the beeping of monitors as accompaniment. Dr. Basil Enicker, another neurosurgeon who operated on Manzini, said 90% of the tumor was removed and that Manzini was at his home near Durban and doing well. (Read more surgery stories.)