Health Team

Some Surgeries Best Done With Patients Awake

Posted December 19, 2007 6:49 p.m. EST
Updated December 19, 2007 7:03 p.m. EST

— In the movie "Awake" – a patient lives a surgical nightmare. The anesthesia wears off while he is in the operating room.

This has actually happened to patients, but it is rare. However, there are surgical procedures where the doctor wants the patient to be awake.

Ronnie Locklear had a low-grade brain tumor. The 51-year-old was kept awake when Duke Neurosurgeon Dr. John Sampson operated on his brain. Being awake lowers the risk of severing control of certain body movements.

“We probably do most of our brain tumor surgeries now awake,” Sampson said.

Locklear was asleep when his skull was opened and anesthesia blocked the pain of cutting through his scalp. He was awake, however, when Sampson cut into his brain.

“It [the brain] actually doesn't have any pain sensory nerves,” Sampson said.

Before Sampson cut, electrical probes located areas that controlled motor function, like the hand.

“The first thing I remember when opening my eyes. I saw the tube that had been inserted into my throat,” Locklear said. “I remember feeling some pressure, but I never had any pain and I constantly had to touch my fingers."

The surgery went well and the brain tumor was successfully taken out.

“He may live forever now without any recurrence of this tumor,” Sampson said.