Professional flutist Anna Marie Whitlock Henry has amazed and entertained doctors and hospital staff by playing the flute during neurosurgery in Houston on Tuesday.
The musician has taught and played the flute with symphony orchestras for 50 years and is currently the principal flutist with Texas’s Big Spring Symphony Orchestra. Throughout all this time she has suffered with a hereditary tremor, but in recent years the condition had become noticeably worse, so much so that she required a sling to keep her arm steady during a recent concert.
Anna Maria Whitlock Henry undergoes brain surgery. Image © Stephanie Whitfield
“You know what’s in there and you know what you feel but you just can’t make your body do it any more, and that’s really frustrating,” Henry told local US news station KHOU ahead of her operation. “I can fight it, but I’m tired of doing it – and it is getting worse. I know it’s a matter of either admitting I can’t do it anymore, or doing this so that I can. I’m just very grateful there’s this opportunity to do something about it that my father never had.”
Having decided to bite the bullet, she chose to undergo deep brain stimulation, a process commonly used to tame some of the worst symptoms for patients suffering with Parkinson’s Disease – it’s even thought to be able to help people fighting depression.
“It is brain surgery, but it’s a way we can really improve a patient’s life, quality of life, where otherwise they’re going to be on medications that may have a modest effect on improving their tremor,” said Dr Albert Fenoy, a leading neurosurgeon with the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
The process involved surgeons implanting an electrode in Whitlock Henry’s brain in order to calm the tremors however, crucially, doctors needed her to be awake in order to assess if they had judged the device placement correctly. Logic thus dictated that the best way to tell would be if their patient was actually performing some useful activity with her arms and hands, and so she decided to play the flute during much of the operation.
Remarkable video footage taken during the process shows not just the almost instantaneous reduction in the shaking but also the heart-warming applause of hospital staff treated to the impromptu concert.
With her tremors greatly reduced, Henry has now been discharged from hospital to rest and recuperate at her Houston hotel before returning to her hometown of Lubbock, Texas over the Easter weekend.