Israeli Violinist Plays While Undergoing Brain Surgery

Doctors at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center implanted electrodes in the brain to suppress the tremor she’d had for 20 years.

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A former violinist whose career was cut short due to a condition known as “essential tremor” regained her ability to play while undergoing brain surgery at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center this week.

“It’s too bad I only heard of the operation now,” said Naomi Elishuv, a professional violinist who had to give up her musical career 20 years ago when she started suffering from the disorder. “Now I can start living again,” she said.

Elishuv, formerly a violinist with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Givatayim Conservatory of Music, gave the surgical team a private concert during deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery to suppress the essential tremor symptoms she has been suffering from for 20 years.

“My greatest love was playing the violin, but sadly I’ve had to make do with teaching until today. My tremor prevented me from playing professionally, and this was very difficult for a woman who was used to playing her entire life,” Elishuv said before entering surgery.

Professor Yitzhak Fried, the hospital’s director of Functional Neurosurgery, who operated on Elishuv on Tuesday morning, explained the procedure: “We implanted a brain pacemaker with electrodes in the area of the brain disturbance, which emits impulses to suppress the tremor that was interfering with Elishuv’s daily activities,” he said.

“The operation was performed under local anesthesia. In order to place the electrode in the optimal location, we wanted her active participation in real-time, so we asked Elishuv to play the violin during the surgery. During the procedure, she did not feel pain because these areas of the brain do not feel pain,” he said.

“Before the operation, I identified the optimal brain location, within millimeters. That is where I implanted the electrode,” he said.

“The surgery was performed via a minute hole in the skull, through which we inserted the 1.3-millimeter electrode and implanted it precisely in the thalamus region of the brain… In the second phase, we did an electrophysiological cell mapping, which gave us an indication of the precise problem location. I performed electrical stimulation in the center of the disturbed area and asked Elishuv to report any side effects caused by the stimulation. Indeed, when we activated the stimulation in the exact location, we found that the tremor had disappeared and Elishuv continued to play Mozart - with great emotion, but without the tremor or side effects,” Fried said.

“I can’t wait to resume normal life,” Elishuv said. “I want to play, to sign a paper, to drink tea without spilling it.”

Surgeons and staff during an operation (illustration.)Credit: AP

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