‘It’s a special challenge’: Memorial Hermann keeps 12-year-old awake during surgery to preserve motor functions while removing brain tumor

HOUSTON – A young boy with a brain tumor had to be operated on while he was awake.

Due to the location of the brain tumor, UTHealth Pediatric Neurosurgeon with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital David Sandberg had to remove just enough to get rid of it, but not too much that the patient would lose the function of his arms or legs. That meant he needed to know during the operation that 12-year-old Gage Dasbach could still move his limbs.

“It’s a special challenge when you have a brain tumor that’s right near or possibly within the areas that control motor function, so the concern is that if you do surgery asleep when the patient wakes up, he might have a new problem,” explained Dr. Sandberg. “It takes a very special skill set to wake a child up in the middle of a surgery without them being in pain, without them being scared, to have them go back to sleep at the right time. It’s an art! I don’t take it for granted because very few anesthesiologists in the country could do it as skillfully as Dr. Matuszczak and her team.”

“For me, it was important to really write down a very precise protocol just for him, just for his case, to make sure we don’t forget any little detail,” said UTHealth Pediatric Anesthesiologist with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, Dr. Maria Matuszczak. “I wanted him to know the voices, the voices of people who will be in the room, so when he is awake, he recognizes and he’s not scared.”

“When I woke up during the surgery, it felt like just one minute,” Gage Dasbach said.

However, Gage was awake for more than half an hour following instructions and making sure the surgery was successful.

“I just looked at Dr. Sandberg and he had a big smile on his face, and he told us that everything was successful, and it was just like… the most wonderful feeling in the world to hear that,” Gage’s mother, Shannon Dasbach, said.

Gage was even able to return to his favorite sport (baseball) about two weeks later.

Seeing him return to what he loves was a real home run for his medical team.