Texas patient livestreamed her brain surgery on Facebook to help others

When doctors told Texas resident Jenna Schardt that she needed a brain operation, she was adamant she wanted to livestream it on Facebook.

While this isn’t likely to be the response of most people in her situation, Schardt thought it would be an excellent chance to provide hope for others in her situation.

So, on Tuesday morning, October 29, at the Methodist Dallas Medical Center, a Facebook Live feed showed 25-year-old Schardt as surgeons worked to remove a mass of blood vessels from inside her skull that had been affecting her speech and had the potential to cause seizures.

Schardt was awake and speaking during part of the operation, a common practice for this kind of procedure as it enables surgeons to test how their actions are affecting the patient.

Rather than stream the actual work taking place in her brain, the livestream instead showed Schardt speaking with members of the medical team as the operation proceeded.

Tens of thousands of interested people visited the livestream while Dr. Nimesh Patel, the medical center’s chief of neurosurgery, gave a commentary describing what was happening. He also answered questions posted to the feed by those watching.

Doctors later deemed the operation a success and posted a picture on Facebook of a smiling Schardt in her hospital bed. She’s expected to leave the hospital in the coming days after undergoing further checks.

Neurological issues

Schardt, an occupational therapy student, first realized she had a problem when she suddenly lost the ability to speak. A subsequent medical examination revealed the cause to be a large number of blood vessels that had formed inside her brain.

“We struggled with the idea of doing a Facebook Live brain surgery,” Patel said in comments reported by the Guardian. “But because Jenna was so forthcoming and she wanted to show the rest of the community if you have this problem you can fix it, she was a role model for us and we supported her because of that.”

Patel said the medical team chose not to show the details of the procedure up close because “if we show something gory, Facebook will cut us off.”

Speaking after the operation, Schardt’s father said he thought it might be “really scary” to watch the livestream, but added that he quickly found that it “brought a lot of comfort, seeing my daughter there and how well she was being treated by the medical staff.”

Schardt’s brain operation may be the first of its kind to be streamed live online, though plenty of other surgical procedures have been livestreamed in recent years. These include an eye operation carried out by an eye surgeon in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2012, and a hernia operation that took place in Beverley Hills, California, in 2016. In a twist on the same theme, a Chinese surgeon recently assisted a medical team during a heart operation on a patient in a different city by using HD livestream footage.

Livestreaming such events is proving particularly useful for medical students, as well as those who may have to undergo the same or a similar surgery.

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