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Islip man undergoes brain surgery while awake

Dr. Ramin Rak, left, talks about a rare

Dr. Ramin Rak, left, talks about a rare brain surgery he performed on Boris Arrazia during an interview at Huntington Hospital in Huntington. (July 16, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Boris Arrazia doesn't remember much about the seizure, but he remembers a lot of the surgery.

The 23-year-old laborer was in Northport on July 5, stopped in his car, when he suffered a seizure.

His passenger was able to put the car into park and get Arrazia to the side of a road, where a passing medical professional performed CPR and called for help, Arrazia said.

Doctors at Huntington Hospital discovered that the seizure was caused by a tumor that could have killed him. So a week after Arrazia entered the hospital, doctors decided to perform an awake craniotomy, brain surgery that keeps the patient awake for portions of the procedure.

Awake craniotomy is performed at a number of academic medical centers across the country, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, but it was the first time the surgery was performed at Huntington, hospital officials said Friday.

Arrazia was sedated for the first stage of the procedure, when doctors cut through skin and bone to get access to the temporal lobe of his brain, where the tumor resided.

This section of the brain is connected to speech, hearing and memory, which is why a team of doctors led by Dr. Ramin Rak, a neurosurgeon, then awakened Arrazia for the next part of the surgery.

For about an hour, the team asked Arrazia to identify various pictures as they probed parts of the temporal cortex near the tumor.

"You don't want to cut the part of the brain that's responsible for any part of speech," said Rak, who had performed the surgery elsewhere once before. "After the surgery would be too late."

When they were sure they'd identified the portions of the tumor that could be removed - in this case, all of it, Rak said - Arrazia was more heavily sedated for the rest of the procedure.

Four days later, Arrazia was ready to leave the hospital and return to his pregnant wife and two daughters in Islip.

He has a large scar on the left side of his head and he can't do any heavy lifting for the next few weeks, but otherwise, Rak said, Arrazia would have no short-term side effects.

Rak said doctors would be closely monitoring Arrazia's progress and that it was possible he might have to undergo radiation treatment or even chemotherapy at some point.

The surgery had one immediate benefit.

For years, the tumor had affected Arrazia's speech, causing him to stammer and sometimes lose his train of thought.

As he prepared to leave, Arrazia said he was speaking with more ease than ever.

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