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Woman's awake brain surgery livestreamed on Facebook

"If we go into the wrong spot, that could cost her the ability to speak," doctors said.

It was a series of everyday words the patient spoke — butterfly, hello, turtle, 20, banana — that told surgeons and 2,000 onlookers, they were in the right spot.

On Tuesday morning, the staff at Methodist Dallas Medical Center livestreamed on Facebook a portion of a so-called awake brain surgery on Jenna Schardt, 25. The operation was to remove a tangled ball of blood vessels that had affected Schardt's ability to talk and was causing seizures.

Schardt had to stay awake for part of the surgery so doctors could ensure that they weren't damaging critical brain functions.

"If we go into the wrong spot, that could cost her the ability to speak, so that's why we have to map out the speech areas first before we go on. We have to physically map them out on the brain while she's awake and talking to us," Dr. Bartley Mitchell, Schardt's neurosurgeon, explained.

The surgery began with Schardt under anesthesia, as doctors cut into her skull.

After they reached the brain, the surgeons woke her up and showed her some basic words and pictures for her to read on an iPad. If she couldn't speak or made a mistake, that gave the surgeons crucial information.

Jenna Schardt
Jenna Schardt, 25, didn't hesitate when doctors asked if they could live stream her brain surgery on social media. Surgeons said Schardt was motivated to help educate the public about brain surgery.Methodist Dallas Medical Center

"We have a GPS tracking system for the brain, and we need to find the places we need to avoid," Dr. Nimesh Patel explained during the livestream. The brain mapping doesn't hurt Schardt; there are no pain receptors on the surface of the brain.

Schardt was eager to have her surgery livestreamed to the world because she believed it would help others who must endure brain surgery.

During the livestream, more than 2,300 people logged in to watch.

"It is cool that they can do that," Schardt said in a video the hospital posted on Facebook before the surgery. "I would rather have me be awake and speaking so they can hit the right areas."

Schardt was pursuing a master's degree in occupational therapy — and was actually helping stroke victims with their recovery — when she experienced symptoms eerily similar to a stroke.

"All of a sudden during the middle of a conversation, I just couldn't speak any more," she said in the Facebook video.

Doctors determined Schardt had a mass of blood vessels in the part of the brain that impacts the ability to talk.

Doctors have been performing awake brain surgery for years. In 2017, doctors at the University of Rochester performed brain surgery on a musician while he played the saxophone to make sure they safely removed a benign tumor without damaging the man's ability to play music.

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