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UEL student observes patient play the violin while undergoing brain surgery

uel student arts

Emma Andersson, a second-year physiotherapy student, attended the surgery at King's College Hospital

A University of East London physiotherapy student observed a first for UK medicine in which a woman had a brain tumour removed successfully while playing her violin during the procedure.

Emma Andersson, a second-year physiotherapy student, was on the neurosurgery ward at King’s College Hospital in London as part of one of her placements, when she had the opportunity to attend the surgery.

“Throughout the placement I got to meet a wide array of patients with either cortical (brain) or spinal conditions and when the opportunity to attend Dagmar’s surgery arose, I did not hesitate,” Emma said.

Professional musician Dagmar Turner, 53, a former management consultant from the Isle of Wight, underwent brain surgery at the London hospital to remove a benign tumour from the right frontal lobe of her brain - close to the area that controls the fine movement of her left hand.

To prevent any damage to her violin skills, Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, Consultant Neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital, decided that they would map her brain and open the top of the anesthetized musician’s skull, before waking her to perform the mid-surgery sonata, all while monitoring her brain - helping to ensure that the parts of Dagmar’s brain responsible for fine movement weren’t inadvertently damaged during the complicated procedure.

“It was so fascinating to see the surgeons work and Dagmar play the violin at the same time! It was also great to witness how the physiotherapist was involved in the surgery by analysing Dagmar's movements throughout the procedure,” Emma recalled.  

“I was told that it is becoming more common for physiotherapists to attend surgeries for movement analysis where movement may be at risk of compromise.”

The operation was a success; the team managed to remove over 90 percent of the tumour, including all the areas suspicious of aggressive activity, while retaining full function in her left hand.

This ITV interview shows Dagmar impressively performing complex scales on her instrument while surgeons monitor her exposed brain.

“The experience gained at placements - both the practical part and also to further the knowledge you gained in the classroom - is so important and UEL's connections with inspiring placements like the one I had is just invaluable,” Emma added.