Abhishek quit his corporate job to become a musician, but his fingers would jam up each time he played the guitar.

Bengaluru man plays guitar as surgeons operate on his brain for musicians crampSource: Sharan Srinivasan/Facebook
news Medicine Friday, July 21, 2017 - 17:19

Bengaluru-based musician Abhishek Prasad feels like he has got a new lease of life. The 37-year-old recently made news for playing a guitar while his brain was being operated on to correct a nerve disorder, in Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain Hospital.

Abhishek quit his corporate job in late 2015 to become a full time musician, but to his dismay, he found that every time he played the guitar, the fingers in his left hand would jam up. “They would work fine otherwise, except when I would try to play the guitar,” Abhishek told TNM.

From October, Abhishek says that instead of training in music, he spent time running from one doctor to another. But all of them failed to diagnose the condition correctly until last year, when a doctor at Manipal told him that he had focal dystonia. 

In Abhishek’s case, it was a task-specific focal dystonia, which affects musicians (also called musician's cramp).

After a series of failed treatments, help for Abhishek came when he met Dr Sharan Srinivasan in December last year. The doctor told him about Ventro-Oral Thalamotomy, which is the surgery that Abhishek eventually underwent.

On July 11, Abhishek lay completely conscious on the operation table after a local anesthetic was administered. During the four-hour surgery, Dr Sharan operated on Abhishek’s brain while he played the guitar. The methodology used was to burn the defective cells in Abhishek’s brain which were causing his fingers to seize up.

“According to what was explained to me, there were some cells in my brain which were hyperactive, and which were causing a circuit mismatch in my nervous system, making my fingers contort involuntarily. These cells were eliminated,” Abhishek says.

Abhishek was asked to strum the guitar so that he could give live feedback to Dr Sharan as he conducted the surgery.

“After reconfirming the target location, a radio frequency lesion was made using a RF ablation machine. As the surgery was on, Prasad was conscious and played guitar, as the disorder used to manifest when he tried to play the instrument. The live feedback was important for us to ascertain the exact location to be lesioned,” Dr Sharan told IANS.

Touted to be the first such brain circuit surgery in the country, the delicate operation involved passing an electrode 8-9cm through a 14mm hole into the brain and stimulating a specific nerve to confirm the right location and prevent any side-effects or complications to other circuits.

"It is a rare disorder that occurs to one per cent of professional musicians. Surgery is the only option to cure it when medicines can't do," asserted neurologist CC Sanjiv, who assisted Dr Sharan.

Post-operation, a beaming Abhishek, who originally hails from Bihar, displayed proficiency by playing the guitar with ease nine days later. He was discharged from the hospital three days after the operation, and has been asked to undergo physiotherapy and take rest for about four weeks.

Ahead of the surgery, Abhishek underwent an MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) guided ablation, which enabled him to have relief from his symptoms on the operation table.

Abhishek is the eighth musician the world and first in India to undergo such a complex surgery to cure dystonia.

Now, Abhishek is happy that he will finally be able to pursue his dream of being a musician, two years after he quit his job. He told TNM that he hopes to finish his solo album by the end of this year and then, join a band.

(With IANS inputs)

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