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Her Skull Was Open. Still, She Played

Dagmar Turner hopes to return to her orchestra after removal of brain tumor
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2020 9:55 AM CST

(Newser) – An orchestra violinist should be able to play under almost any circumstance. In the middle of brain surgery isn't one of them. But Dagmar Turner has managed that feat. The 53-year-old was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor in 2013 after suffering a seizure while playing with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, reports Yahoo. By the fall of 2019, the tumor had become more aggressive, prompting a plan to remove it, according to King's College Hospital in London. But Turner feared the procedure in the right frontal lobe of her brain, near an area that controls the fine movement of her left hand, would leave her unable to grip the strings. Neurosurgeon Keyoumars Ashkan, himself a pianist, understood her concerns and suggested Turner be roused to play during surgery to ensure surgeons didn't damage the relevant part of her brain.

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In advance of the surgery, doctors spent two hours identifying brain areas that were activated when Turner played. After her skull was opened, Turner—closely watched by anaesthetists and a therapist—was roused. Footage shows her playing as surgeons work behind a transparent sheet. "Fantastic!" a voice says after a flourish of notes. Reuters reports Turner played music by Gustav Mahler, George Gershwin, and Julio Iglesias as surgeons removed over 90% of the tumor—"retaining full function in her left hand," according to Ashkan. He explains patients are often brought to during surgery "to carry out language tests. But this was the first time I've had a patient play an instrument." Turner says she hopes to return to her orchestra soon. (Read more brain surgery stories.)

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