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Brain surgery with patient awake 

The neurosurgery team performs the first awake brain surgery in the Cayman Islands.

In a first for the English-speaking Caribbean, neurosurgeons at Health City Cayman Islands have successfully performed another advanced procedure by surgically removing part of a brain tumour while the patient was awake.

The procedure – known as awake craniotomy or awake brain surgery – enables the surgeons to remove, partly or fully, tumours from the brain that would otherwise carry high risk of damage to important functions of the brain.

A resident of the Cayman Islands was referred by his primary care physician to Dr Romnesh de Souza, interventional neurologist at Health City Cayman Islands, on suspicion of a stroke.

The patient had been experiencing numbness on the right side of the body for several months, including loss of control of his arm and hand for a few seconds at a time. While the initial suspicion was that the patient was having a stroke, further tests revealed that there was a tumour on the left side of his brain, which affected the right side of his body and was causing him multiple seizures. The tumour, while not aggressively malignant, was in a location where further growth would result in the loss of speech and motor skills.

Dr de Souza explained that the patient’s occupation involved working with fine instruments requiring a great degree of precision and dexterity. This presented a challenge to the neurosurgical team, led by Dr Susheel Wadhwa, who was keen not to damage surrounding parts of the brain that control motor skills and other functions, such as language, during the surgery.

The patient said: “For me it’s my livelihood, and to have those motor skills, it is extremely important for everybody, but especially my profession where I work with the smallest of pieces being a watchmaker.”

Dr. Wadhwa indicated that awake brain surgery allows surgeons to remove tumours in delicate or important areas of the brain while monitoring and preserving the function of the surrounding normal areas. He further explained that the brain “was like a switchboard which controlled specific functions” such as speech and facial expressions. Conventional neurosurgery performed under general anesthesia, to treat tumours in these areas, takes away the ability to monitor function during surgery and could result in a significant loss of function.

Awake surgery, added Dr. Wadhwa, was particularly valuable because by interacting with a patient who was awake, “you knew you were not damaging normal tissue.”

The procedure is performed after the patient’s scalp is numbed with local anesthetic and usually with the patient sedated at the beginning and end of the procedure, but awake in the middle. The Health City patient received a scalp block and a little anesthesia for sedation at the beginning of the procedure. Throughout the operation, Dr. Wadhwa and his team were guided by monitoring of the patient’s responses to verbal and motor commands.

This complex surgery involved an experienced team of neurosurgeons, nurses, technicians and anesthesiologists.

Dr Wadhwa said: “This is the first operation of this nature at Health City. But fortunately for us, we had the entire team. Right from the technicians to the nurses to the anesthetists to the surgical team, it was the same team which was performing these surgeries in India, and so the surgery could be carried out smoothly.”

The patient paid tribute to the entire team at Health City. He said: “It’s not just Dr. Romnesh and Dr. Susheel, it is the whole team behind them, and I just want to say thank you. They are all professionals here, they really are.”

About Paul Kennedy

During a career that spans almost three decades, Paul has covered some of the biggest stories in the world for regional and national newspapers. A multi-award winning journalist and published author, he has worked for the past six years producing television news and documentaries in Cayman. Paul is also the host of a weekly football show. His dream story is to find a dog that can play piano.

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