Foundation donors help Sarah save lives

05 Feb 2024

Lives will be saved, and brain surgery patients will recover faster thanks to the supporters of the PA Research Foundation and neurosurgeon Associate Professor Sarah Olson.

Patients with tumours and cysts deep in the brain which would normally require invasive and risky surgery are now able to have them removed via keyhole surgery after Dr Olson purchased an ultrasonic aspirator (pictured below) with funds raised on the Foundation’s 2023 Giving Day.

Thanks to A/Prof Olson’s dedication to giving her patients the best possible outcomes, the PA Hospital was the first in Australia and New Zealand to obtain the aspirator, which is game changing equipment for some brain tumour patients, many of whom are young.

The equipment uses ultrasonic vibrations and a cutting edge to remove malignant tissue while also being able to irrigate the area and suction away debris at the same time.

“Usually all you can do is take a biopsy. There's not enough room to do anything more than that. This equipment enables us to not just take a biopsy but take the whole lesion out,” A/Prof Olson said.

“It'll be a great option for people with lesions that would otherwise need a major operation to take them out. It’s all done by keyhole surgery, so a much better recovery which is exactly what we want for people.”

A/Prof Olson said the aspirator will be particularly useful in patients with tumours and cysts deep in the fluid system of the brain.

“These tumours are quite challenging to get out, they grow very centrally. It will be a handful of patients every year, but it will save them from having to undergo a big operation where we might have to split the hemispheres of the brain.

“The potential side effects and recovery from that type of operation as opposed to a keyhole operation are much more impactful on quality of life and the ability to get people back to their normal activities.

“For example, with major surgery they could be in hospital for weeks recovering, whereas with the keyhole surgery they could be out in a few days.”

A/Prof Olson first saw the aspirator on the ABC before attending a conference overseas where she also, through the Foundation, acquired specialist equipment that neurosurgeons can wear to aide them in surgery.

“I was at a meeting in Jerusalem, and I wanted to get these loupes, which go with a special reveal headlight that we purchased through the Foundation,” she said. I bought the loupes with a specific filter in them to go with the headlight.

“There is a dye called Gliolan that is taken up by tumour cells we give patients orally before surgery . The dye lights up pink where there is tumour if you are using the headlight and loupes.

“Now instead of having to use a microscope to see the tumour lighting up pink, we can just do it with glasses and a headlight, which is a lot easier for a surgeon.

“You can see around corners better than you can with a microscope. The tumour lights up pink and we can take more of it out.

“The Royal Melbourne's just purchased one, but we were the first. It's used intermittently for people with gliomas, particularly after they’ve had radiation. I don't know what's radiation tumor and what's tumour and the pink dye shows me the tumor and so I can get more of it out.”

A/Prof Olson said she was incredibly grateful for every person who chooses the PA Research Foundation as their place to give, as it allows her and other surgeons to save lives and help more patients.

“I don't want to leave neurosurgery thinking it's the same as I came into it. I want to make things better for our patients. It's hard enough having a diagnosis and ending up with big scars on your head and potentially horrible neurological consequences.

“We're always trying to reduce that and keep people functioning as normally as possible and the Foundation allows us to find ways to do that.”

A/Prof Olson's level of care over the years has inspired many patients to fundraise for her work through the Foundation, including Shannon Sharman who was inspired to become a nurse thanks to life-saving surgery by the PA based neurosurgeon.

Right: The Ultrasonic Aspirator 

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