Kim Bonnema of Michigan Describes Being Awake While Having Brain Surgery

Kim Bonnema several months after having brain surgery is back at work and doing normal activities. (Photo: Emily Zoladz/MLive.com)

Being awake for a surgery might sound like a nightmare for some. But for patients needing operations on their brain, it is often required to be kept alert at some points. Kim Bonnema from Michigan was one of these patients and instead of sounding frightened, she described herself as “relaxed” and “confident” during her awake craniotomy.

In a story by by MLive’s Sue Thoms, Bonnema said she not only had suffered with epilepsy, a condition that results in seizures, but also was found to have six tumors in her brain, four of which she had been living with since 1984 that considered inoperable at the time they were found. This past summer, Bonnema underwent surgery where she was awoken in the middle of the procedure to remove two tumors.

Dr. Kost Elisevich, the surgeon at the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids who performed Bonnema’s operation, said the patient is often woken up during such surgeries to assess how their speech and motor skills are. One of 45-year-old woman’s tumors was in an area that could have affected both.

“For this, we needed to be able to interact with Kim during the surgery in order to assess her language and motor skills as the tumor itself was removed,” Elisevich said in a statement from the hospital. “An awake craniotomy involves arousing the patient from sedation during the surgery for this purpose.”

“We asked Kim to move her right hand and wrist, to show a smile and close her eyes,” Elisevich told Thoms.

Thoms also reported that Bonnema had blood vessel malformations, which were complications resulting from epilepsy, that were fixed in the surgery as well.

Watch the doctor’s interact with Bonnema during the operation:

Now the question we’re all wondering: can Bonnema remember the surgery and, if so, what was it like? Thoms reported Bonnema saying she does have memories of being awake but was unaware of what was going on with the surgery specifically.

“I was very relaxed,” she told MLive. “I was just so confident.”

After such a surgery, Bonnema spent four days in the hospital and had two weeks of rehabilitation before she returned home, according to a press release from the hospital.

At first after the surgery, Bonnema’s speech was impaired as well as her control over her right eyelid, but function of both have returned. Thoms also reported Elisevich saying that if Bonnema continues to remain seizure-free she could eventually reduce or stop taking medication, which Bonnema said would give her more energy.

“I have a renewed appreciation for life. For the most part, my speech is fine. I just have to make myself consciously slow down at times. And my hair is growing back,” Bonnema said, according to the hospital’s press release. “Life is good.”

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