Doctors cut a hole in Lester Beck's skull two days ago and removed a brain tumor. He goes home today.
Nope, he didn't spend a day in intensive care, followed by days in a hospital room, followed by six months of recovery to get his strength back. Beck has a pair of staples in his head instead of a Frankenstein-like scar. He was awake for the surgery and had only one question for the surgeon when he was wheeled out: "Did you cook it all?'
Ray Turner, 33, a Medical University of South Carolina neurosurgeon, performed the first laser brain surgery in the hospital's history, only the 10th performed in the United States and the 30th in the world. He used string-sized, fiber optic technology he couldn't have anticipated during his medical training, and his residency ended last year.
"It's exhilarating," he said Thursday.
"This is what we want to do in medicine, stay on the cutting edge."
The makers of the high-tech device promote it as "keyhole surgery for brain cancer." The device is threaded like a wire through a one-eighth-inch incision in the skull, implanted in the tumor like a biopsy needle and turned on for spurts of a few seconds.
"We watched the tumor basically bleed, cook, burn. Watched it die," Turner said.
Beck, 68, a former math teacher and bartender who lives on Pawleys Island, was mostly nonplussed at the whole thing.
"You don't really feel anything. You just hear the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging device) make a clackety-clack noise like a jack hammer," he said.
Beck chose the option over traditional surgery, which involves removing a piece of skull and then cutting out the tumor. "Somebody cutting open your mind," Beck said, giving a little, disbelieving laugh, "that's quite something."
All in all, his knee replacement last year was a lot more traumatic.
The device is on loan to the medical university from Visualase; the company is partnering with hospitals to promote it. Beck's tumor lent itself to the procedure because of its relatively small, golf-ball size and because it was easy to get to, Turner said. Beck will undergo follow-up chemotherapy and radiation.
Asked if the laser worked better than traditional surgery, Turner said, "We'll see. This is just so new that we're still learning about it. Where it's going to fall in the overall scheme of curing a patient, we're still sorting out that information."
As for Beck, two weeks ago he was having a seizure on the floor in his house. Now he's headed for Litchfield beach.
"I love to go to the beach," he said. "I'd like to bike ride down to Huntington Beach State Park."