GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands, Sunday September 17, 2017 – 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 tumor while the patient was awake.
The procedure, known as awake craniotomy or awake brain surgery, enables the surgeons to remove – in part or in full – tumors from the brain that would otherwise carry high risk of damage to its important functions.
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 tumor on the left side of his brain, which affected the right side of his body and was causing him multiple seizures. The tumor, 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 tumors 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 is “like a switchboard”, which controls specific functions such as speech and facial expressions. Conventional neurosurgery performed under general anesthesia to treat tumors 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 is 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 the patient’s responses to verbal and motor commands.
Early diagnosis and removal of the tumor was important, recalled the doctor, who explained that different parts of the brain would be affected if the tumor was allowed to grow: “So by decompressing the tumor, we save normal and important areas of the brain. It also gives an opportunity to safely biopsy the tumor to understand its exact nature and plan further therapy.”
The patient was grateful for the speed with which he was diagnosed and treated. He said: “The great thing was that within an hour, the doctor was available. I came in and had an MRI right away. And they knew what it was within hours…Dr. Susheel was here as well, and within less than a minute, he knew what to do and that made me feel really comfortable.”
The surgery removed a significant portion of the tumor, and during the patient’s last follow-up appointment it was found to have not grown further. The patient will require brain scans every three months for the next year to monitor the status of the tumor and is following up with regular visits with Dr. Wadhwa. He also has a regular schedule of appointments with Dr. de Souza to monitor and control his seizures.
The patient says his recovery has gone remarkably well: “Every day there was a big step forward, and it took maybe three weeks to recover fully.”
After the May 2017 surgery, the patient has returned to work and feels completely back to normal. “It has been over three months, and now I feel really good, it’s almost as if I never had an operation…I am still having a hard time to see it as a major surgery, since I am feeling really good and I am back to where I was before…it’s a lovely future. Life is good,” he said.
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. 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. “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,” he said.