Medical Minute: Focused Brain Surgery

Brain tumors can damage speech, memory or gait depending on where it is. When a patient goes in for surgery, the doctor has to carefully remove the tumor while avoiding those same areas of function.

2002 was a year of highlights for Chris and Tracy Schoettelkotte. Tracy graduated from law school. They were married, and went on their honeymoon.

Then Tracy began to get severe headaches.

"I guess, I feel like Dec. 24, our life was basically perfect,” Chris recalls.

Then, on Christmas day, they went to the emergency room.

"An hour and a half later, they were coming down and telling us that I actually had a tumor,” Tracy says.

Neurosurgeon Raymond Sawaya says Tracy’s brain tumor was two inches across.

"It is a tumor that originates from within the brain substance. So when this tumor grows, it is growing surrounded by brain tissue,” Dr. Sawaya explains.

His challenge was to remove the tumor without damaging other areas. He used this new tool called a Surgiscope. It combines medical images with images from a microscope.

"I want to be focused on this point and just to be able to tell that to the microscope, and the microscope, which is hanging on the ceiling, to be able to rotate and focus on that point,” says Dr. Sawaya.

Patients recover more quickly and go home sooner than with standard surgery. Tracy's tumor was removed on New Year's Eve. Now her focus is not on cancer, but on their baby-to-be.

"It happened to me at this time and there's a reason. And we just go forward with it and that's what we do,” Tracy says.

Tracy will have her baby and then start chemotherapy. Dr. Sawaya says there are two keys with surgery when removing tumors – removing the entire mass and avoid causing any damage.

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