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Health Spotlight: Awake during brain surgery

Health Spotlight: Awake during brain surgery

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Imagine being out of the country and needing life-saving surgery – it happened to one dad while on vacation with his two young boys. It turns out, the sun and fun combined with the heat and exhaustion added up to a perfect storm. This young father ended up in brain surgery awake and talking to surgeons.

Both boys are Fernando Vera’s reason for living, and that was never more clear than last Father’s Day when the family was on vacation in the Dominican Republic and something terrible happened.

“As I entered the arcade, I started twitching on my left side, and then I bit my tongue to bleed and foam up and slowly fell down,” said Fernando.

Fernando felt like he was leaving his body. Rushed to the ER and then flown back to Miami, Fernando was diagnosed with a cerebral vascular malformation.

“Which is a collection of blood vessels that creates a ball, and those collection of blood vessels can cause bleeding or in the brain or seizures,” said Dr. Robert Starke, MD, neurosurgeon at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Starke says each time Fernando had a bleed, the more likely he would have another, causing more damage to his brain each time. His best option – surgery to remove it.

“If we do this surgery awake, I’m able to stimulate those areas to carefully identify where are the speech centers and where are the seizures coming from,” said Starke.

In a video of Fernando’s surgery, a resident is keeping the conversation going for hours. Fernando is not in pain, but being able to converse with the surgeon insures the success of the procedure.

“We use a huge microscope that’s bigger than, you know, all of us put together to make a tiny opening and go in and remove this malformation,” said Starke.

The surgery was a success! Fernando went home two days later and hasn’t had a seizure since. Looking back, Fernando believes he had two seizures before the one in the Dominican Republic but never realized what they were and thought they were a reaction to what he ate or an extreme workout. Although awake surgery for brain tumors is somewhat common, awake surgery for vascular malformations is extremely rare. Due to the proximity to the section of the brain that controls speech, the surgeries are safer when carried out awake.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.