Music teacher plays saxophone during brain surgery

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — In 2015, Dan Fabbio was a music teacher in a school in New Hartford, New York. One day he felt ill and visited a hospital in nearby Utica. That visit changed his life.

“My mind was fighting over okay, which is real?” Dan Fabbio began seeing and hearing things he knew weren’t real. At 25, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Fabbio was referred to doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Dr. Webster Pilcher was one of the doctors who treated Fabbio.

“This tumor was involved in an area of the brain that we worried would be involved in his musical ability,” he says.

Dr. Pilcher teamed up with Associate Professor Brad Mahon and developed a brain-mapping program. But there was a challenge.

“We have never before mapped music in the human brain. And so one of the first things we did is we reached out to our colleague Dr. Betsy Marvin of the Eastman School of Music,” Mahon says.

For six months they studied Fabbio’s brain to determine which parts were responsible for his musical abilities and prepared him for surgery.

“We had to train him how to do that because he would be lying on his left side which isn’t most saxophone players play the saxophone,” says Dr. Pilcher.

Dan Fabbio was on the operating table for seven hours.

Fabbio was not only awake, he was playing his saxophone and performed music and language tests, helping surgeons identify which areas of the brain to avoid. Until, finally, the tumor was gone. Doctors and researchers erupted in cheers.

“It felt like hitting the homerun,” says Dr. Pilcher.

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