A woman from Texas played the flute while she was lying on the operating table during a major brain surgery.

63-year-old Anna Henry has a hereditary condition that causes her head and hands to shake since she was a child. The trembling, however, worsened a few years ago and already affected her ability to play her instrument and do otherwise simple tasks such as write, drink soup, or sew.

Playing Musical Instrument During Brain Surgery

To stop the hand tremors, Henry underwent a brain operation at the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston on Tuesday.

The doctors implanted electrodes into Henry’s brain to control the tremors but they also needed to keep her awake during the surgery so they would know if the electrodes were working. Henry played the flute during the surgery so the doctors could see the effects of the electrodes.

A video showing Henry playing the flute without visible signs of shaking suggest that the operation was a success.

Deep Brain Stimulation

The neurosurgical procedure Henry went through is called deep brain stimulation or DBS. It is used to improve the life of people with essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Deep brain stimulation is now also being studied as an experimental treatment for addiction, major depression, stroke, and dementia.

 It is typically reserved for individuals who are not able to control their symptoms with medications.

In Henry’s case, for instance, the combination of beta blockers and an epilepsy drug that her doctors prescribed her no longer worked and already cause eye problems and muscle weakness.

The procedure typically involves creating small holes in the skull to implant electrodes within certain areas of the brain. These electrodes produce electrical impulses that can block abnormal signals that underlie neurological conditions.

“Why these patients have all these issues, like Parkinson’s disease, is because a circuit is abnormally functioning,” explained neurosurgeon Albert Fenoy, from Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

“By overriding that abnormally oscillating circuit with high-frequency stimulation, you can override that dysfunction and train it to be a more normalized firing pattern.”

The amount of stimulation produced is controlled by a pacemaker-like device implanted under the skin in the chest.

Deep brain stimulation is generally safe but like most other surgeries, it also has the risk of complications and side effects, which include infection, headache, confusion, seizure, stroke, hardware complications, and temporary pain and swelling at the implantation site.

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