Mapping the brain: Discovering the unknown

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What if you were an amazing musical talent and a seizure threatened your young career?

Recent Roosevelt University graduate Sandy Marante has been singing since she could speak. But last year there was doubt she would ever sing again. While studying for a master’s degree at Roosevelt University last year, Sandra started having trouble hitting certain notes. She and her voice professor, Judith Haddon, were perplexed.

“I sent her to a speech pathologist, a throat doctor, everyone saw something but they didn’t know why.” Haddon told us. “And we struggled and suffered in that entire year.”

One September day in opera rehearsal, Sandra’s life would change forever. She had a grand mal seizure.

“I have no recollection and all of a sudden I was placed on a gurney getting sent to the hospital,” remembered Sandra.

Doctors discovered the cause for Sandra’s singing troubles was a rare tangled mass of blood vessels in the brain called an AVM.

“The AVM leaked;” explained Northwestern Memorial Hospital attending neurosurgeon Dr. Bernard Bendok. “Luckily it was a small leak in fact the seizure in a way was a blessing in that it was picked up before it caused a major hemorrhage.”

Dr. Bendok was concerned about Sandra’s future. She recovered well from the seizure but would need to consider brain surgery to remove the AVM. Dr. Bendok knew that if the AVM was located in or near the part of the brain Sandra used to sing it could have devastating long term effects. Bendok and his team used new technology called ‘brain mapping’ to see the parts of Sandra’s brain used while singing.

“In her case we had her think about musical pieces and see what part of her brain lit up to see how it related to the AVM.” said Dr. Bendok. “That gave us some sense of how safe the treatment would be.”

In July of 2010, Dr. Bendok removed the AVM.

Brain mapping is a new technology that allows doctors to see what part of the brain is used for a specific function. According to Dr. Bendok, stroke is the number one cause of disability in the United States. Brain mapping will help doctors better understand the brain and treat and prevent strokes.

For more information on brain mapping, follow this link.

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