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Brain Tumor Surgery Restores Movement in Limbs

Functional MRI guidance enhances surgical precision

When Vaughn Atkins woke up in the middle of the night on March 15, he didn't know what was wrong but he knew he was in pain. "My right foot felt like someone had hooked an electrical cable to it," he said. The pain shot up his right side, and then he blacked out.

He had just experienced a seizure. After it was over, he began to lose the ability to move his right leg and arm. For the active and athletic Atkins, who coaches the AAU Illinois Voltage, a 13-and-under travel basketball team in Elgin, it was frightening because it came out of the blue.

Functional MRI
Functional MRI of Vaughn Atkins' brain, showing the tumor as the dark circle in the center. The orange spot to the left controls leg function, and the spot on the right controls arm function.

Atkins went to a hospital near his home, where he was diagnosed with a meningioma -- a benign brain tumor. It was pushing on the part of the brain called the motor strip, which controls movement. After researching his options, Atkins decided to see neurosurgeon Peter Warnke, MD, director of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Warnke and his team used a functional MRI scan to pinpoint the area of Atkins' brain that controlled movement in his right leg and arm. The tumor was located between those two areas -- and close to major blood vessels.

"The scan provided images with wonderful color coding that shows where the leg function and arm function is located," Warnke said. "If you have all that functional information, a tumor like this is nothing we couldn't remove."

Peter Warnke, MD

Warnke was able to use these images as a guide to remove the tumor without affecting any motor function or the blood vessels. This precision meant that just two days after the operation, Atkins had regained function of his arm and leg.

Four months later, he's back on his feet and again coaching basketball.

"The whole process put me at ease," Atkins said. "With Dr. Warnke and all the nurses and residents who kept me calm, I feel wonderful now."

August 2012

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