- After 19-year-old Kira Iaconetti was diagnosed with musicogenic epilepsy, a form of epilepsy where listening and singing music can trigger seizures, she needed brain surgery.
- After consulting with doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Iaconetti underwent an awake surgery where she remained conscious and sang throughout the procedure.
- Awake surgeries can be used to protect brain functions like musicality or speech during the removal of a tumour, Dr. Jason Hauptman, Iaconetti’s surgeon, told INSIDER.
When 19-year-old Kira Iaconetti went tone deaf and began slurring song lyrics, she knew something was wrong. A talented singer since the age of six, Iaconetti began having episodes four years ago where she, “couldn’t process the words in time with the music” and “couldn’t sing,” she told Teen Vogue.
It turns out, Iaconetti had musicogenic epilepsy – a form of epilepsy where listening and singing music can trigger seizures, according to the Epilepsy Society – and she needed surgery to remove a brain tumour and stop the seizures.
In an effort to help Iaconetti without harming the parts of her brain where her musicality stems from, Dr. Jason Hauptman and his team performed an awake surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“In the short time I got to know Kira, I learned her passion was in singing and acting and I thought the worst thing I can do is take that away from her,” Hauptman told INSIDER.
The risks of awake brain surgery aren’t much different than the risks of regular brain surgery
According to Teen Vogue, Iaconetti was initially put to sleep, then woken up when it was time to remove her tumour. Once awake, Iaconetti was asked to sing and perform other musical tasks so Hauptman could determine what parts of her brain to touch and which were off-limits.
“One advantage of doing surgery while a patient is awake is that it’s very reassuring that function is being preserved,” Hauptman told INSIDER. He also noted this type of surgery can be useful for people with epilepsy who need to preserve their speech or other brain functions, not just music-related ones.
An awake surgery sounds scary, but Hauptman said the procedure has similar risks as a regular brain surgery. “In a small percentage of patients, [awake brain surgery] could cause transient seizures, but we can fix it immediately if necessary,” he told INSIDER.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors include changes to your vision, impaired coordination and balance, impaired speech, and memory loss.
Iaconetti’s procedure was a team effort and the “performance of a lifetime”
Brain surgery is a complex procedure that requires teamwork, and Hauptman said his team rose to the challenge. From the anesthesiologists who were in charge of keeping Iaconetti awake and comfortable to the neurosurgeons performing the procedure and all of the hospital staff in between, Hauptman said it was a fulfilling experience to watch his team flawlessly complete the surgery.
As for Iaconetti, “it was a performance of lifetime,” Hauptman told INSIDER of her work in the operating room. “She was performing for her health and did it incredibly well. I couldn’t think of a better patient to do this surgery on.”
Hauptman hopes this procedure and Iaconetti’s story give others going through similar experiences hope in the midst of scary, uncertain times in their lives.