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2 August 2023, 13:22 | Updated: 2 August 2023, 13:23
Patient plays violin while surgeons remove brain tumour
After being diagnosed with a brain tumour, Dagmar Turner thought she’d never play the violin again – but then came along a clever plan devised by doctors at King’s College, London.
A woman from the Isle of Wight who played the violin during brain surgery has been reunited with her neurosurgeon.
Dagmar Turner, a long-standing member of the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, was first admitted to hospital in 2013 after having a seizure during a concert.
Doctors revealed that Turner, 53, had an aggressive brain tumour that required intensive brain surgery, and the musician feared she may never play her string instrument again.
So, an unusual approach was taken to ensure the parts of her brain responsible for coordination and delicate hand movements, crucial for playing the violin, were not damaged.
In January 2020, as doctors removed the tumour in her brain, Turner played the violin.
Two and a half years after the surgery, Turner has been reunited with the consultant neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital, Professor Keyoumars Ashkan – who is also a music graduate – to rewatch the extraordinary operation.
“When I saw him, I just had to smile, he always makes me laugh, which is great, and I’ve been eternally grateful to him for what he did with my tumour in my head, because it wasn’t supposed to be there,” Turner said.
As the tumour was located in the right frontal lobe, the risk of damage was high. “The violin is my passion,” Turner said just after the surgery in 2020.
“I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old. The thought of losing my ability to play was heartbreaking.”
To improve Turner’s chances of retaining her skills as a violinist, Ashkan devised the special plan.
Before carrying out the craniotomy, surgeons at King’s College, London spent two hours mapping the musician’s brain while she played the violin (watch video above), allowing them to identify all active areas.
Anaesthetists and a therapist watched on as doctors opened Turner’s skull for the millimetre-precise surgery.
Professor Ashkan said: “We 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.”
Since recovering from her brain surgery, Turner has been able to return home to her husband and son.
She told PA Media: “Pretty close after the operation, only a few days and weeks, I was really fit. I was straight back in my symphony orchestra.
“My conductor looked at me like, ‘what are you doing here?’ (I was like) ‘I just want to come to rehearsals’.
“It was quite mind blowing in a way but then also, after that, I got all the side effects, fatigue, constantly tired, no energy and I still have that now, which is really annoying me.”
Despite the fatigue, Turner can still play her beloved strings, and was able to return to her orchestra soon after surgery.
Prof Ashkan, who plays piano, hopes to play with Turner one day. “Obviously, Dagmar gets monitored regularly and so far, so good, we keep our fingers crossed that things remain well for her,” he said.
“And she continues to play, amazing, wonderful violin and then maybe one day we can play together.”