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Teen Sings During Brain Surgery To Avoid Losing Musical Ability

A 19-year-old sang during a craniotomy so doctors could understand how a tumor affected her musical talent.

Nineteen-year-old Kira Iaconetti has a passion for music and performing that has given her joy her whole life. According to People, she taught herself her musical talent and loved to take part in plays and musicals. However, about four years ago, she began to experience a strange reaction any time she sang or listened to music. During these short two-minute episodes, Iaconetti became totally unable to sing or process the words she was hearing. Aside from being unusually tired, she didn’t have any other symptoms and thus wasn’t too worried about the strange episodes.

“It was like a light switch turned off in my brain,” Iaconetti said. “Suddenly, I was tone deaf, I couldn’t process the words in time with the music and I couldn’t sing. Forcing myself to sing after one of these glitches was extremely difficult. I would become incoherent, slurring and stuttering my words.”

Her episodes began to increase in frequency and so she was sent to Seattle Children’s Hospital where she learned she suffered from a type of epilepsy induced by music. Her seizures were caused by a tumor pressed up against her auditory cortex. Because of her love of music and singing, this was a particularly heartbreaking diagnosis for Iaconetti.

Dr. Jason Hauptman, a neurologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, thought of one way he might be able to remove the tumor while preserving the 19-year-old’s ability to sing. He decided to perform an awake craniotomy, a procedure in which he would wake Iaconetti up from anestheia mid-surgery and have her sing while he operated. This would allow him to see how the areas of her brain reacted to the music.

“Our focus was not only on taking care of the tumor, but making her life better. We wanted to preserve the things she cares about, like her passion for pursuing a career in musical theater,” he said.

The surgery went well and Iaconetti was awake and playing guitar in her hospital bed just one day after her operation. Doctors say she will likely never require another surgery and will be able to live her life as she chooses. The singer is especially grateful for the doctors who went to such great lengths to ensure she’d be able to continue doing what she loved.

“My biggest fear before the surgery was that the seizures would get in the way of performing,” she said. “Now, I want to get back to the stage, to performing as soon as I can.”

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