Woman Undergoes Brain Surgery While Playing Violin to Ensure She Can Still Play Instrument

Rachel DeSantis
·3-min read

Most people would prefer to be knocked out entirely during brain surgery, but most people aren’t British violinist Dagmar Turner.

Turner, 53, recently went under the knife to remove a brain tumor in her right frontal lobe, and played her beloved violin as surgeons at King’s College Hospital in London operated.

Though unconventional, the move was put in place to ensure the operation would not damage areas of Turner’s brain responsible for the “delicate hand movement and coordination” she needs to play the violin, according to a media release from the hospital.

Turner, a former management consultant from the Isle of Wight, was first diagnosed in 2013 with a large grade 2 glioma after she suffered a seizure during a symphony, the release said.

She underwent biopsy and radiotherapy to make sure the tumor did not grow, but by last fall, it had become larger and more aggressive. She and her doctors decided to remove it.

Dagmar Turner | Guardian News/Youtube
Dagmar Turner | Guardian News/Youtube

Because the tumor was located near an area of her brain that controls the fine movement of her left hand, Turner, who plays with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, feared she may lose the ability to play the violin.

But Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, King’s College Hospital’s consultant neurosurgeon, had a plan.

“The violin is my passion; I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old. The thought of losing my ability to play was heart-breaking but, being a musician himself, Prof Ashkan understood my concerns,” Turner said in the release.

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He and a team of surgeons, anesthetists and therapists spent two hours before the musician’s surgery mapping her brain to “identify areas that were active when she played the violin and those responsible for controlling language and movement,” the release said.

They also talked with Turner about having her play as they operated to make sure the surgery did not damage any crucial areas of her brain that controlled her movements as she played her instrument.

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The surgery was successful, and according to Reuters, Turner played Gustav Mahler, George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Julio Iglesias.

Ashkan said that the hospital performs around 400 tumor removals each year, but that this is the first time he’s ever had a patient play an instrument during surgery, according to the release.

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He also said that his team was able to remove over 90 percent of the tumor, “including all the areas suspicious of aggressive activity,” and that Turner still has full function of her left hand.

“[Ashkan] and the team at King’s went out of their way to plan the operation — from mapping my brain to planning the position I needed to be in to play. Thanks to them I’m hoping to be back with my orchestra very soon,” Turner said in the release.

She was able to return home to her husband and 13-year-old son three days after the surgery, and will continue to be monitored by her local hospital, the release said.