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Katharin Czink WGN News
7:21 p.m. CDT, May 7, 2012
She's singing their praises. Facing a career-threatening brain surgery, a local opera student based hope for her life's passion on the performance of local doctors --setting the stage for success.
Sandra Marante, opera singer: "It's called "Mi Sueño", My Dream. This is my little nostalgic goodbye to you all."
Sandra Marante has good reason to feel nostalgic. After all, the 25-year-old's life has played out much like one of the dramatic works she's performed as an opera major. In the first act -- an accident that left 35% of her body badly burned.
Sandra Marante: "I was in the hospital for about a month and a half, in intensive care and I went through a lot of rehab."
Then, last September, as she was rehearsing her role as Cinderella at the Chicago College of Performing Arts
Sandra Marante: "Everyone was looking to see when I come in during my entrance and I had a grand mal seizure. At that point I really don't know what happened.
Todd Parrish, Northwestern Neuroimaging Researcher: "This is Sandy's brain. You can see this dark region is where there is a tangle of blood vessels from the AVM."
An arteriovenous malformation -- a tangled mass of blood vessels and arteries. But it was the location of Sandra's AVM that thickened the plot.
Todd Parrish: "This AVM is just right along the critical areas of processing music."
Tucked in the right temporal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for language, speech, tempo and pitch, surgically removing the AVM would have to be well orchestrated.
Dr. Bernard Bendok, Northwestern Memorial Neurosurgeon: "When you have an opera singer you're talking about a much more sophisticated brain function that we don't on a daily basis think about when we're doing brain surgery."
So Sandra's doctor asked neuroimaging researcher Todd Parrish to compose a special test.
Dr. Bendok: "Normally he's mapping out arm and leg function and speech. I said, 'I really need you to help me understand her opera ability.'"
Todd Parrish: "The test we gave her was to listen and imagine she's singing four of her favorite operas."
Sandra's brain lit up! Functional MRI images mapped the activity.
Todd Parrish: "There's a lot of activation right around the AVM and you can see it here. Along here is motor cortex, so this is tongue and some of the facial muscles being controlled for the opera."
Dr. Bendok: "I was expecting to find two or three locations, but in fact many parts of the brain get activated much like an orchestra."
Armed with a front-row view, neurosurgeon Bernard Bendok removed the AVM while circumventing critical structures that fuel Sandra's talent.
Dr. Bendok: "In terms of the stakes for the surgery, this was one of the highest."
Sandra Marante: "He seemed really loyal to the project of saving my voice, and he wanted to help save everything he could and preserve this thing that I am driven by, which is music. I mean, I can't thank them enough."
To make sure the entire experience ended on a high note, Sandra invited Dr. Bendok to a post-surgery performance.
Dr. Bendok: "Seeing her perform was probably the greatest reward a surgeon could ask for."
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