This musician was awake and strumming his guitar during brain surgery
Guitarist Abhishek Prasad strummed along after neurosurgeons burned bits of his brain to fix a rare disorder that impaired his ability to play his favourite instrument.
The 37-year-old man from the Karnataka capital was diagnosed with musician’s dystonia and the surgery on July 11 at Bhagwan Mahavir Jain Hospital was a first in India.
Musician’s dystonia, or cramp, is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s hand and finger movement because of the brain sending incorrect information to the muscles.
The ailment affected three fingers of Prasad’s left hand.
Prasad quit his job in the IT sector to follow his passion for music but “started feeling stiffness in my fingers in 2015, just as I was seeing out the final days at my office”.
Since the condition is rarely diagnosed in India, it took Prasad more than a year to find a doctor who could pinpoint the problem.
Musician’s dystonia can easily be misdiagnosed as muscle stress, pull or strain.
“When the problem began to manifest, I went to orthopaedics. But my condition got worse. I was so depressed that I would follow up on anything anybody suggested. But with no success,” Prasad said.
A doctor informed Prasad about a Japanese surgeon, who specialises in musician’s dystonia. It was then that he met neurosurgeon Sharan Srinivasan.
“Finally in June, I called Dr Srinivasan, who asked me to visit him and look at videos of the procedure,” Prasad said.
Surgeons make an incision in the skull and insert a 9cm electrode to burn parts of the brain causing the disorder. As the brain has no ability to feel pain, local anaesthesia is applied to the skin and skull where the cut is made and the patient’s head is covered with a contraption that looks like a helmet.
The rest of the brain functions normally and the musician is asked to play his preferred instrument during the process. It lets the surgeons know if the “brain burning” is working or how much more they need to burn.
“Such surgeries require the patient to be awake and perform the function that is triggering the brain to misbehave,” Srinivasan said. “The idea is to gauge the patient’s reaction to the surgery as this disorder is specific to a task.”
Prasad got six radio frequency ablations, the medical term for the brain burning.
“With the first burn I did not feel any change. But by the third burn, I could feel the stiffness going from my fingers. After the sixth, I could move my hand as freely as before,” Prasad said.
Srinivasan is delighted with his patient’s response as the surgery “generally shows 70% to 80% results on the operating table”. In this case, it was 100%, he said.
The neurosurgeon said the procedure is fairly common abroad, especially in Japan.
“But here we have such a dearth of neurosurgeons that we have not been able to concentrate on enhancing quality of life,” he added.
Prasad’s family is thrilled with the success. His depression affected wife Mudita and their seven-year-old daughter. “I want the happy Abhishek back again,” she said.