A video shot during brain surgery at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has astounded people who are shocked to see 19-year old Robert Alvarez awake and playing an acoustic guitar during the procedure. Alvarez, who began playing guitar at the age of 12, had been suffering from symptoms of a low-grade insular brain tumor for five years. When originally diagnosed he didn't want to pursue surgery for fear that the risks were too great, but as the symptoms worsened it became his only alternative.
Because Robert’s tumor was located near the parts of his brain that controlled speech and movement, his surgeon recommended an awake craniotomy. During this type of procedure, the patient is woken up during surgery to help map and safely preserve those critical functions as the brain tumor is removed.
Knowing that Robert was a guitar player, his neurosurgeon Sujit Prabhu, M.D., asked he wanted to play the guitar. The response was "Yeah, of course!" Among the songs Robert played were "Creep" from Radiohead.
Shreyas Bhavsar, DO Neuroanesthesiology explained, "The brain actually has no pain fibers. It has no sensation, and when you combine that with the fact that we can apply regional anesthesia, numbing medicine to strategic portions of the brain and you can numb the skin, the muscle and the bone, it makes for a remarkably comfortable surgery."
In the video, Robert Alvarez and neurosurgeon Sujit Prabhu, M.D., explain why and how Robert played the guitar during his surgery for a grade II astrocytoma. It was the first time a brain tumor patient played a musical instrument during an awake craniotomy at MD Anderson Cancer Center.