following first human surgery with a free-electron laser beam
A news conference
was held on Monday, December 20th, 1999 on the Vanderbilt campus
three days after the first human surgery using a free-electron laser.
Following are excerpts from the comments of Virginia Whitaker, the
patient who had a tumor removed from her brain, and Michael Copeland,
the neurosurgeon who performed the operation.
I feel fine,
I feel good, and I love these people. I have so much confidence
in them. I knew, about 30 minutes after I talked to this man that
I would do this. And I just hope it does help other people and other
Well, it feels
like I am looking outside on someone else. I have never been anybody
important, you know, and for me to be sitting here talking to you
people, it doesn't seem like it is me. I am watching someone else
do this, but I am glad it is me.
I was never
scared, before God, I wasn't. I was apprehensive, because I had
a brother who had to have brain surgery twice, but it was from an
injury in the Navy, but no I really wasn't afraid. I knew [Dr. Copeland]
would save my life. He wasn't going to let me die, was he?
Do you want
to see my head? I look like a real goon.
There is only
one bad thing about [the successful operation]: I can't blame every
mistake I make on the tumor any more!
The unique thing
about the FEL here, is that unlike conventional surgical lasers
which typically only have one static wavelength of light that they
produce, the FEL has essentially an infinite number of wavelengths
of light that it can output. -So really it was the only laser that
could be used for this operation. However, the trick was figuring
out, -out of that infinite number of wavelengths which one do you
choose as the right wavelength. So the hard part was figuring out
that 6.45 micron radiation minimizes collateral terminal injury,
in other words, the tissue right next to your incision has the least
amount of injury to it….
We feel this
is a break-through, in that we can vaporize tissue and have almost
no ill effects on the tissue immediately next to it. So the advantage
of this laser, when it is fully utilized and fully exploited, is
that we can make incisions in normal brain infrastructures or remove
structures such as tumors … without injuring the adjacent brain.
In some parts of the brain a millimeter is like a mile and can make
the difference between doing well as a patient or having a devastating
injury. It may seem like just a millimeter, but in the brain stemwire
and speech cortex, that is a mile.
has a lot of mechanical problems. The brain is a lot like jello
really and if you have ever tried to cut jello with a knife, you
just can't do it without tearing it up. The other tool that we have
at our disposal is bipolar forceps, which create an electrical charge
between the tips of the forceps and create heat. That's four millimeters
of thermal injury to the brain. We have conventional lasers, which
also produce collateral thermal injury, so there is either mechanical
injury or heat injury with all the incision tools that we have now.
So [the FEL] adds another weapon to our armamentarium.
mean that everyone will need to have an FEL. What we are trying
to establish is what wave length has properties that minimize collateral
thermal injury. Once we have established that, then the industry
can create, hopefully, a tabletop laser that cranks out 6.45 micron
radiation and that can be an inexpensive way for everyone to take
advantage of it.
have had a nicer person to start with. We are trained in medical
school to keep an arm's distance from your patients because sometimes
you make an unpopular decision and you don't want to get clouded...This
was such a delightful woman that it has been real easy.