Henry Assists in Brain Surgery - Part 1

“St. Barnabus has become a sort of shrine for thousands of spastics as a last-resort help.”  People magazine, March 29, 1976

Soon I began to assist in brain surgery. 

Wait. What did you say?  Assist in brain surgery? (I’m incredulous, and also extremely curious to see how Henry explains this one.)

Cooper used me during the surgery on the brain. He was operating on the thalamus gland; they called it a thalamectomy. The thalamus gland is the little part of the brain on the bottom. The problem was how close it was to the speech part of the brain, and you could lose that. Patients were awake for the entire surgery.

In the moment of the operation, you are lying on the table, with head all covered. They (patients) don’t see what’s going on, but I do. So during the surgery which the guy is here, and you can see only the face, and this top is back, because they open the top and go in brain, and this is on television screen and everything how they go in.  First they drill a hole in the skull on one side, and they put the cannula in one side with nitrogen or something to kill the germs or something else.  It was his invention so we never touch it. 

Someone needed to talk to patients during the surgery.  People came from all over the world for Dr. Cooper’s surgery and they spoke many languages. Cooper used me for patients that spoke German, Czech or Russian. Talking to them also helped keep them calm.

You knew Czech too?

Czech is Slavic.  Slavic is almost like Polish.

I just asked simple questions.  “What’s your name?” “Do you have any sisters?” “Where are you from?” I have their chart so I know a little about them. Talking to them was important because if they all of a sudden started to slur their words or go Aaaaa then I have to say “Stop!” Dr. Cooper knew he touched a gland and adjusted. 

Patients also had to be awake so Dr. Cooper could talk to them as he worked. If he just got to the right center, he would ask them to raise an arm or leg, whereas they couldn’t before. Then he knew the surgery worked.  About a week after surgery, these patients would show up on my therapy table. – Henry Zguda

Note – more explanation of surgery in next post.


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