The First Investment in the Future

Early Donations Led to More Precise Surgery

Looking back over the last 30 years and Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada's direction of more than $3 million in funding to more than 100 research projects, one wonders, how did it all begin? What was the first major project funded and how did it affect what treatment is taking place today?

This story was first published as an article in BrainStorm in 2007.

From the very outset of the organization’s founding it was vitally important for donations to help bring neurosurgery to a higher level and to benefit the community, patients and hospitals treating brain tumours. An important priority was completing the first funded project in a reasonable time.

The founding team of Dr. Rolando Del Maestro, his wife Pam (a neuroscience nurse) and Steve Northey, along with board members, chose to focus on the purchase of a Cavitron Ultrasonic Surgical Aspirator (CUSA).

Compared to regular manual surgical techniques at the time, the CUSA – consisting of a hollow titanium tip that vibrates 15,000 – 20,000 times a minute and vacuumes out tumour debris – allowed safer, quicker and more accurate removal of diseased tissues, especially for brain tumour surgeries. The new machine meant patient surgeries would be performed at greater speed with less damage to surrounding tissue for a shorter operation and recovery time. In most cases, the length of surgery would be shortened by several hours.

Through skilled negotiation with the manufacturer and countless evenings spent speaking to service clubs around Southwestern Ontario, over a two-year period. A total of $95,000 was raised for the purchase. The surgical aspirator unit was delivered and installed at the Victoria Hospital Cancer Clinic and Children’s Hospital of Ontario in London, Ontario in 1985.

The Cavitron ultrasonic aspirator – one of the first available in Ontario and the only one in the region at the time – made an immediate impact. Surgeons started using it the day it arrived. Three different surgeons – Dr. Del Maestro, Dr. Hugh Barr and Dr. Cost Elisevich – operated with the new technology for a variety of procedures but its primary focus was brain tumour removal. The three surgeons operated five days a week and averaged 150-200 operations per year with the Cavitron.

“The big advantage, especially in cases of children with medulloblastomas,” explains Dr. Del Maestro, “is that the Cavitron would rid the tumour very fast with more precision – like using a pencil. Varying the tip’s thickness could remove only a few cells without damaging nerves or surrounding tissue.”

Although the Cavitron unit was extremely new and advanced technology at the time (ultrasonic surgical instruments were first developed in the 1970s), its application has stood the test of time. The unit donated by Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada was still being used in 2000, and contemporary machines have changed little in function although there are some differences.

“The new machines are more compact,” Dr. Joseph Megyesi of London Health Sciences Centre’s Division of Neurosurgery details. “They are easier to maneuver in the operating room and, even more importantly, easier for nursing staff to set up.”

Dr. Del Maestro speaks to the importance of the surgical aspirator’s purchase: “It allowed us to do things that could not have been done before. The CUSA was the major technical advancement in brain tumour removal in the last 20 years.”

The donation of the Cavitron Ultrasonic Surgical Aspirator was one of the first steps in the evolution of brain tumour treatment and in establishing the credibility of what would become Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. The focus on increasing patient care through research continues with every donation received, until one day a cure is found.

Learn about all the ways you can give to support brain tumour patients in Canada today and in the future here.

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