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Metal In The Mainstream

Metalhead Strums DEFTONES & SYSTEM OF A DOWN Tunes Through Brain Surgery

Shredding the tumor away.


Christian Nolen is one hell of a notable brain surgery patient. While undergoing a delicate operation to remove a tumor from his brain, Nolen did something extraordinary: he played guitar. And not just any music – Nolen strummed riffs from Deftones and System Of A Down.

Nolen's unusual performance wasn't just a metalhead's whim. His surgeons at the University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center requested it. Because the tumor was located near areas of the brain that control movement and speech, they needed to monitor Nolen's cognitive function throughout the surgery. Playing guitar, an activity that requires precision and coordination, was the perfect test.

"When a tumor is involving or near a critical part of the brain — something that controls the ability to speak or understand language or move —we want to do the surgery awake to continually monitor the patient, so you know if you start to violate normal brain functions," explained Dr. Ricardo Komotar, director of the brain tumor program at the University of Miami. "The surgeries actually become much more dangerous [if the patient is asleep] because you can take out a tumor that involves normal brain function and cause real harm without knowing it."

"Christian was having issues with the left side of his body, particularly his left hand. He was noticing issues with his dexterity that affected his ability to play the guitar." Dr. Komotar continued.

As the surgeons worked, Nolen reportedly navigated the rhythms and chords of Deftones and System of a Down's tunes: "I'd only really heard of procedures of that nature being done in shows and movies. I felt like it was such a unique experience that I couldn't pass up – especially with my motor skills being on the line."

"As we were finishing the case at the very back of the tumor, we noticed that his hand function started to decline," Dr Komotar added. "The tumor was touching and interfacing with the part of the brain that controls hand movement. Fortunately, we were able to remove the entire tumor and not injure his hand."

Talk about the unyielding human spirit facing adversity with a six-string serenade.

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