It's not uncommon that surgeons listen to some classical music during an operation –what's uncommon, is when the music is being played by the patient itself.
Naomi Elishuc, a former violinist at Lithuania's philarmonic orchestra, had been suffering from hand tremors for the past 20 years, which affected her ability to play her beloved instrument and ended her career. The doctors had always assured her that the condition was incurable, but last week a team of neurosurgeons from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, performed a correcting procedure by placing an electric pacemaker on her brain, and Naomi was once again able to play Mozart free of shakes while she was under local anesthesia.
She was fully conscious during the operation, and her performance was both a method to locate the damaged region in the brain that needed repairing, as much as a way to regale her doctors and show them her appreciation for restoring her lost gift.
“My great love is playing the violin, but for many years, I have had to make do with only teaching. The tremor didn’t allow me to play professionally, and this was very hard for a woman who was used to performing all her life,” she said before being wheeled into surgery.
Prof. Itzhak Fried, head of functional neurosurgery at the hospital who performed the operation, explained that he and his team installed a pacemaker with an electrode in the brain region that was damaged. Sterotactic technology was used to reach the area within a few millimeters. Only a local anesthetic was needed, as the brain itself does not feel pain. To find the exact region, Elishuv’s cooperation was needed to stop the tremor. As she played the violin – at first with very shaky notes and finally with a normal sound, the surgeons located the affected area. The electrode was inserted through a small hole made in her skull.
The electrode, with four leads, was permanently implanted in the ventral intermedius nucleus in the thalamus region.
“When we turned on the electric current, we saw the tremor melt away,” said Fried, “and Naomi continued to play the violin beautifully.” Elishuv said she was told that she will now be able to write, play her stringed instrument and drink from a glass normally, without shaking. “
This is the first time ever that I have performed brain surgery on a person who played the violin during the operation,” the veteran neurosurgeon concluded. “We enjoyed the private concert of a talented and noble performer. I hope now she will be able to perform before a larger audience.”