OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Jim Milot was visiting one of his newborn grandchildren in the hospital when he realized that he had a serious medical problem.
Milot ran into a friend at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, and mentioned that he had been having headaches. After running some tests, Milot learned he had a brain tumor that was the size of a baseball. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma.
That was six weeks ago. Today, Milot is recovering from what doctors are calling a life-saving surgery that took place while he was awake.
Because the tumor was located on his brain — and made up of brain cells — there was a major risk that Milot would lose some brain function. Many surgeons would choose not to operate on a tumor located on the brain, but neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Sughrue developed an approach to make it happen.
“Life is about more than can you wiggle your fingers a little bit. You want to be able to be as functional as possible. But we can’t back off the cancer. Cancer is cancer for a reason,” said Dr. Sughrue. “It’s really an aggressive cancer. So we want to hit it with the kitchen sink.”
Milot had brain surgery three days after being diagnosed. During the 5-hour procedure, he stayed awake, so that Dr. Sughrue could determine what parts of Milot’s brain were functioning. Dr. Sughrue would then “turn off” the parts of the brain he was about to remove.
Milot loves music, and loves playing the mandolin — and that came in handy during his surgery. Dr. Sughrue had Milot play the mandoline as part of a process to determine how his brain was functioning.
Dr. Sughrue was able to remove 99% of the tumor — and because of the aggressive attack, Milot is hopeful that his chemotherapy will knock out the rest of the mass.
“Awake surgery is high-risk. It’s a stressful surgery by definition because the whole reason you’re keeping someone awake is because you’re taking it out of an area you’re not supposed to be in,” said Dr. Sughrue. “It’s risky, there’s no way around that. But what it allows us to do is to not quit, not give up. We’re going to try.”