Experimental surgery performed by UWM neurosurgeons

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A two-day cycle (17-18 May) of surgeries consisting in implanting a stimulator to patients in coma, performed for the first time in Poland, was held in the Clinical University Hospital in Olsztyn. The team of surgeons performing the experimental procedure is led by Prof. Wojciech Maksymowicz, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the UWM.

The procedure of implanting a stimulator in patients in coma, performed in the Clinical University Hospital in Olsztyn, is a unique and innovative medical event. Apart from the team led by Prof. Wojciech Maksymowicz, the procedure was attended by Prof. Isao Morita, a Japanese neurosurgeon and a specialist in electrical stimulation from the Department of Neurosurgery School of Medicine of the Fujita Health University, and his two colleagues.

“This surgery is the first one of this type in Poland. It is an experimental coma treatment method. The medical name for this procedure is dorsal column spinal cord stimulation and it was performed for the first time at the beginning of the 21st century in Japan. The patient is operated on in general anaesthesia. After opening the spine in the cervical section, neurosurgeons will introduce electrodes, which by delivering electrical impulses, will stimulate the spinal cord. They will affect the brain, which may contribute to waking up the patient from a coma”, explains Prof. Wojciech Maksymowicz.

Patients who will undergo the surgery are less than 35 years old and fell into coma as a result of traffic accidents or after cerebral hypoxia. The basic criterion qualifying the patient for this procedure was detection of minimal consciousness, i.e. response of the brain to external stimuli. For this purpose, patients underwent cerebral flow examination performed with the SPECT/CT imaging equipment. The four patients include Ola – the daughter of the popular actress, Ewa Błaszczyk, who became involved in waking up children in coma. Ewa Błaszczyk is the founder of the “Akogo” Foundation for children requiring rehabilitation after severe neurological injuries and for their families. The aim of the foundation was to build the “Alarm Clock” Neurorehabilitation Clinic at the Children's Memorial Health Institute. Ewa Błaszczyk in recent years, together with Prof. Wojciech Maksymowicz, has been working to establish in Olsztyn the first “Alarm Clock” clinic for adults in Poland.

“The ‘Alarm Clock’ Clinic in Warsaw is intended only for children under the age of 18. Every year, we answer desperate phone calls to accept adult patients in a coma. Very often these are motorcyclists or young drivers aged 19 or 21. This is a great gap in our health care system and a great challenge”, said Ewa Błaszczyk during a press conference in Olsztyn last year.

In 2000, her daughter, Ola, who was then six years old, choked while drinking water to swallow a pill. Her brain suffered from hypoxia and the girl fell into a coma. She has been in that condition for 16 years now.

“I have great hopes related to this procedure, as I know their results from Japan”, the actress said.

The effect of the surgery is not immediate.

The results achieved by Japanese doctors demonstrate that out of 200 patients who had the stimulator implanted, an improvement was observed in more than 60 percent. Seven of them regained a full contact with their surroundings and functional independence.

prepared by syla

photo Michał Ciucias, Szymon Nitkiewicz