Former violinist with tremor regains ability to play while undergoing brain surgery

Naomi Elishuv, a former violinist at Lithuania’s national philharmonic orchestra, had to give up her beloved instrument 20 years ago.

By
September 10, 2014 13:55
2 minute read.

Violinist with tremor regains ability to play while undergoing brain surgery (Video: Sourasky Medical Center)

Violinist with tremor regains ability to play while undergoing brain surgery (Video: Sourasky Medical Center)

Naomi Elishuv, a former violinist at Lithuania’s national philharmonic orchestra, had to give up her beloved instrument 20 years ago when she was diagnosed in Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center with essential tremor. When she came on aliya, she performed at the chamber orchestra and conservatory of Givatayim. After the symptoms began, she learned that there was no medical intervention then that could have reversed it.

But on Wednesday, she returned to violin playing while being awake during brain surgery that treated her shaking.

“It’s a shame that I didn’t know about this operation before,” said Elishuv, as she manipulated her bow and touched the strings to produce a normal melody. “Now I’m going to live again.”

A video on YouTube shows the musician playing Mozart as behind a plastic curtain, Sourasky surgeons are painlessly fiddling with her brain to locate the spot that needed to be repaired with deep-brain stimulation.

“My great love is playing the violin, but for many years, I have had to make do with only teaching. The tremor didn’t allow me to play professionally, and this was very hard for a woman who was used to performing all her life,” she said before being wheeled into surgery.

Prof. Itzhak Fried, head of functional neurosurgery at the hospital who performed the operation, explained that he and his team installed a pacemaker with an electrode in the brain region that was damaged. Sterotactic technology was used to reach the area within a few millimeters. Only a local anesthetic was needed, as the brain itself does not feel pain. To find the exact region, Elishuv’s cooperation was needed to stop the tremor. As she played the violin – at first with very shaky notes and finally with a normal sound, the surgeons located the affected area. The electrode was inserted through a small hole made in her skull.

The electrode, with four leads, was permanently implanted in the ventral intermedius nucleus in the thalamus region.

“When we turned on the electric current, we saw the tremor melt away,” said Fried, “and Naomi continued to play the violin beautifully.”
Elishuv said she was told that she will now be able to write, play her stringed instrument and drink from a glass normally, without shaking.

“This is the first time ever that I have performed brain surgery on a person who played the violin during the operation,” the veteran neurosurgeon concluded. “We enjoyed the private concert of a talented and noble performer. I hope now she will be able to perform before a larger audience.”


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