Florida Man Plays Deftones, System of a Down Riffs During Awake Brain Surgery

The method allowed surgeons to remove a tumour without impacting brain function

Photo: WSVN-TV (via YouTube)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jan 23, 2024

A Florida musician was asked by his brain surgeons to play riffs by Deftones and System of a Down while awake during a procedure in order to safely remove a tumour.

Miami-area guitarist Christian Nolen shared with WSVN how playing his six-string under the knife was nothing short of an “out of this world” experience.

Nolen explained that a tumour on the right side of his frontal lobe was discovered after his everyday motor control was affected following being knocked around at a concert: “I had lost feeling in my whole left side from the waist up. I wasn’t able to move my arm (and) my face began to drag.”

To have the tumour removed, Nolen underwent an awake craniotomy at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center earlier this month. While he was put to sleep with anesthesia at the beginning and end of the two-hour surgery, Nolen was awakened for a portion of the operation during which he was handed his instrument and asked to play material by Deftones and System of a Down in order for doctors to monitor his hand function.

“These types of tumours, if you don’t have the ability to remove the tumour with the patient awake, actually become much more dangerous,” Dr. Ricardo Komotar, neurosurgeon and the director of the University of Miami’s Brain Tumour program, told WSVN. “Having the patient awake and playing guitar while we take out the tumour allows us to be as aggressive as possible, yet still maintain his quality of life and his manual dexterity.”

In an interview with Fox News, Dr. Komotar shared how surgeons noticed Nolen’s “hand function [start] to decline” as they were removing the back of the tumour, giving a glimpse at how helpful the surgical six-stringing really was to the operation. He explained, “The tumour was touching and interfacing with the part of the brain that controls hand movement. Fortunately, we were able to remove the entire tumour and not injure his hand."

Nolen’s procedure was a success, and he was discharged a day after surgery to continue his recovery at home. “It was just out of this world, to just wake up and have people actively working inside of your head. It’s kind of an insane feeling,” Nolen told WSVN.

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