A MUM-of-two who has an incurable brain tumour invited TV cameras into the operating theatre to film surgery on her skull.
Debbie Selam, 38, of Dalton, was conscious for most of the four-hour operation.
The amazing surgery was shown on the BBC’s Inside Out programme last night.
Debbie, who is married and has two sons Shamsie, eight, and 18-month-old Yusuf, said she had decided to let in the cameras to raise awareness of brain tumours.
“It was not a decision I took lightly,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be gory or sensational or for people to feel sorry for me.
“I did it to raise awareness of brain tumours which are the biggest killers of young people under 40 and children.”
Debbie, a former programme manager, was diagnosed with a slow-growing tumour when she collapsed suddenly in 2007.
Doctors advised a ‘watch and wait’ policy to see how fast the tumour developed.
It was slow-growing but in 2010 Debbie was told she needed surgery to reduce the size of the tumour.
Six months pregnant with Yusuf at the time she took the decision to wait and spend some time with her second child.
Debbie chose when she wanted to have the operation.
She eventually underwent surgery at St George’s Hospital in London on October 1 last year.
The procedure, carried out by renowned neuro-surgeon Henry Marsh, involved drilling into her skull and removing a 6in by 4in piece of bone.
The surgeon then had to stimulate parts of the brain to determine which areas controlled which function.
Only then could the surgical team know which part of the tumour could be cut away.
The procedure, called an awake craniotomy, was carried out under local anaesthetic with Debbie conscious and communicative for most of the four hours in theatre.
“I didn’t want to shock, I just wanted it to be real for people,” said Debbie.
“I have spoken to people about what brain tumours are, how under-funded it is and how more research is needed for future generations.
“But people’s eyes just glaze over. I wanted people to come with me into the theatre and understand what it is like to have a brain tumour.”
Debbie had a metal brace clamped to her skull and four bore holes were drilled to remove the rectangular piece of bone.
Debbie was in no pain but said: “I really felt the vibrations from the round-bladed drill.”
She forgot the cameras and blocked out much of the experience through meditation.
“I was in a deep meditative state which I was quite proud of,” said Debbie. “I didn’t really believe in that stuff before.”
Surgeons had hoped to remove 50-80% of the tumour but only five to 10% was actually taken away.
“The neuro-surgeon said the operation was a failure,” said Debbie.
“My brain had done a lot of re-rooting which is very clever but not very helpful. If you can imagine a motorway and a journey from A to B.
“In the middle is a car crash – the tumour – so you have to find your way round the obstacle by using the A roads.
“That’s what my brain had done. When they stimulated part of my brain which they expected to control my leg it turned out to be my cheek. My brain has re-mapped itself.”
The operation came to a close as Debbie tired and her left leg became paralysed.
She still hasn’t got full movement back even now.
Debbie will now have an MRI scan next month to see just how much of the tumour has been removed.
There are three likely outcomes – more surgery, radiotherapy or ‘watch and wait’.
“I don’t know what will happen,” said Debbie.
“The good news is that the tumour is still slow growing. That’s really good news.”
Debbie has urged people to learn about brain tumours and help raise funds for vital research.
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