Brain surgery, media, and serendipity

brainA North Carolina neurosurgeon had just about given up on the case of Brandon, a 19-year-old tumor patient, till a story on led him to a new surgical tool that let him operate successfully.

Dr. Thomas Ellis, a senior neurosurgeon at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, had given the mother the bad news. But:

“As I do every night, I read CNN online and immediately saw on the front page that there was an article in the health section entitled, From military device to life-saving surgical tool. …”

Ellis got in touch with the manufacturer in Massachusetts, and 72 hours later the device was in his hands.

It was originally devised for the U.S. military, and rolled out for surgeries three months before Ellis read about it.

The tool allows surgeons to easily manipulate a CO2 laser and bend it to reach almost any tissue in the body, particularly in cases where scalpels may pose a danger.

Next day (Christmas Eve, no less):

“After only 30 minutes, it was clear this laser device, as simple to use as a scalpel, was successfully debulking the tumor.”

Ellis operated on Brandon for four hours and managed to remove the remaining 80 percent of the tumor by vaporizing it from the inside with the laser and then excising it.

“The boy was then extubated [removing the tube to his airway] after about 30 minutes and that same evening he was eating normally,” Wolf said.

Brandon has recovered his basic functions and is behaving normally.

Ellis says:

“I think it’s an amazing story because it’s yet another demonstration of how interconnected we’ve become in this world.

“You have a CNN reporter in London, who writes a story about a neurosurgeon in Chicago, who’s using a device that was invented in Massachusetts. That story is read by a different neurosurgeon in North Carolina, and all within 72 hours, we have the device in North Carolina.”

[PET scan image from Wikimedia Commons]