TV: It’s Not Brain Surgery (Except, Sometimes It IS!)

Brain Surgery Live
National Geographic Channel, in a partnership with Mental Floss, will capture the drama of an awake deep brain stimulation surgery.

This Sunday, National Geographic Channel and Mental Floss are partnering for the 2-hour live event Brain Surgery Live With Mental Floss that gives viewers a fascinating look at an awake deep brain stimulation surgery. For the first time on U.S. television, we’ll see live coverage from an operating room (at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland) as 49-year-old veteran Greg Grindley, who suffers from early-onset Parkinson’s Disease, undergoes this surgery.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a procedure used to treat debilitating neurological symptoms, including Parkinson’s disease, by implanting electrodes that block electrical signals from specific areas in the brain. During awake DBS, patients are fully awake — yes, you read that right. Mr. Grindley will be fully awake and able to speak with the neurosurgery team, ensuring that they accurately pinpoint the correct areas of the brain to place the electrodes (done through a series of tests). If that sounds scary, consider the alternative: living with a debilitating, tremor-producing disease.

The goal of this program, according to neurosurgeon Dr. Jonathan Miller, is that “this live broadcast of a deep brain stimulation surgery will educate viewers and offer a comprehensive look at this cutting-edge surgery.”

In our office, people are torn. Some of us are (understandably) a bit squeamish, while others (myself included) are fascinated by this concept. If you’re on the fence, I recommend you give it a shot, because if you’re imagining it’s going to be really gross, remember that real brain surgery is nothing like the highly-dramatized brain surgery you’re used to seeing on TV. Also good to keep in mind — the brain itself does not feel pain.

There will be two manned cameras in the OR, as well as several robotic cameras with inputs directly into the surgical equipment, so you can see exactly what the doctors see! In addition, the production will use the hospital’s Surgical Center 3D surgical simulator, which is used to map out the surgery. And, of course, there will be cutaways guided by Mental Floss, where we’ll learn more about the brain, including how it influences creativity and interacts with the rest of the body, and how science has improved and continues to improve its methods to study this 3-pound organ that controls every bit of our being.

The show will be hosted by Bryant Gumbel, joined by neurosurgeon Dr. Rahul Jandial, who will provide insight into the science behind the surgery, and science journalist Cara Santa Maria, host of the “Talk Nerdy” podcast. The neurosurgical team will consist of the aforementioned Dr. Jonathan Miller, Dr. Jennifer Sweet and Dr. Benjamin Walter, all operating at UH Case Medical Center, a pioneering institution in the field of DBS. This special will be broadcast all over the globe, in 171 countries and 45 languages.

Brain Surgery Live With Mental Floss airs live in all time zones this Sunday, Oct. 25, starting at 9pm ET/6pm PT.

Photo credit: National Geographic Channels