Woman comes back after wide-awake brain surgery

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 10, 2012 at 4:51 am •  Published: December 10, 2012
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — On request, Kim Bonnema recited the months of the year, smiled, wiggled her fingers and touched her nose.

It was a bit like a roadside sobriety test, except Bonnema was lying down - on an operating table — as a surgeon removed tumors from her brain. The simple tasks she was asked to perform showed the parts of the brain that controlled various neurological functions.

The idea of being awake during a craniotomy was frightening at first to Bonnema, a 45-year-old receptionist. But by the time she underwent surgery at Spectrum Health's Butterworth Hospital, she was surprised how calm she felt.

"I was very relaxed," she said. "I was just so confident."

Dr. Kost Elisevich, the surgeon who performed the operation, said he considers "awake cases" to be part of the range treatment options available to help patients with brain tumors or lesions.

"I don't want other people or physicians to think because a lesion is in a particular part of the brain that the patient doesn't deserve the full benefit of having a resection done," he said.

Bonnema, a mother of two, underwent the operation July 2 to treat two issues arising from angiomas - blood vessel malformations in her brain. She has had epilepsy for 30 years, and this summer, she developed weakness on the right side of her body.

So far, both conditions have improved since the surgery. Bonnema is hopeful she might someday be able to stop taking anti-seizure medication.

Bonnema was 16 when she began to suffer grand mal seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. A quiet, shy kid, she didn't tell many of her classmates.

"The toughest part I remember was when I was in marching band and I had a seizure during practice," she said. "Kids were saying 'Kim is on drugs.' I was mortified."

A brain scan in 1983 showed she had four tumors, but at the time they were considered inoperable.

With medication, Bonnema was able to prevent grand mal seizures for the most part. But she still had minor seizures that would be difficult for others to detect. And during her two pregnancies, she had difficulty matching the right medication dose to her changing weight, and had severe seizures.

She didn't let the condition slow her down or interfere with her life.

"I wasn't going to let it stop me from anything," she said. "I'm not a worrier. I didn't think what might happen in the future. You just got to live for the day."

Last May, however, new problems arose. Bonnema noticed weakness and numbness in her right hand. Sometimes, she stumbled when she walked.

An MRI showed there were now six tumors in her brain. Two were of particular concern, Elisevich said. A tumor in the left frontal lobe had tripled in size in eight years, growing to 25 millimeters. It was between the speech area and motor area of the brain.

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