In Vietnam's First Awake Brain Surgery, a Patient Is Conscious and Singing

The patient, a 36-year-old businessman, was awake for two of the surgery's six hours, during which he sang and conversed with doctors to assure the procedure was not damaging areas of his brain needed for basic motor and language skills.

On January 28, two Japanese doctors performed Vietnam's first awake brain surgery on 36-year-old Nguyen Trung K. at Vietnam-Germany Friendship Hospital in Hanoi to remove a brain tumor. While no longer rare in the west or advanced Asian economies like Japan, this is the first time the surgery had been performed in Vietnam as it requires advanced facilities, medical equipment and skilled doctors. It was essential that the patient spoke English as well, so he could communicate with the doctors.

Dr. Dong Van He, head of the infirmary’s neurosurgery department explained: "During his own surgery, the businessman was asked by doctors to sing so that they would know whether his speech brain function was damaged at all." He chose the Vietnamese national anthem and the popular sing-a-long 'Nhu co Bac Ho Trong Ngay Vui Dai Thang' (As if Uncle Ho Were Here in the Joyous Day of Great Victory).

The precise amount of anesthesia had to be determined and administered to keep him unconscious for the first four hours and awake for the final two. Dr. He said the procedure is no more expensive than conventional methods, but more difficult: “If the conscious patient panicked and struggled and thrashed about, especially when the skull is open and being worked on by the doctors, the brain could be dislocated and the risks are unimaginable.”

K. was reported to be recovering well and in good spirits following the procedure. Vietnam hopes to perform more awake surgeries in the future including ones by local surgeons. After experiencing chronic head pains and seizures last year, K. went for a checkup and was diagnosed with glioma, a common type of brain tumor.

[Photo: Vietnam-Germany Friendship Hospital/Straits Times

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