Through a Mother's Eyes: An Update on a Young Opera Singer's Road to Recovery Following Brain Surgery

Northwestern Medicine
Neurosciences January 07, 2013
In the fall of 2011, Sandra Marante suffered a grand mal seizure while she was practicing for an opera performance. Northwestern Medicine experts minimized the impact of neurological surgery by using advanced imaging techniques and brain mapping. Below is an update on Sandra’s journey told through her mother, Maria’s words.

Opera singer Sandra Marante with her motherAs a family we reside in Miami, and our daughter, Sandra, was attending graduate school in the field of performing arts at Roosevelt University in Chicago. She is an aspiring opera singer. On September 29, 2011, around 6:30pm, Sandra collapsed and had a grand mal seizure during the rehearsal of the opera production of Cinderella, immediately after she sang her aria. When my husband and I received that dreaded phone call from the school, he drove me to the airport and I was on the next airplane to Chicago.

I was informed that she was taken to the neurology department at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. From the airport in Chicago I took a taxi straight to the hospital and I walked in her room just as the doctor was explaining to my daughter what the result of the MRI exam was; Sandra had a golf ball size arteriovenous malformation (AVM), tangled blood vessels, in the right frontal lobe of her brain. This is a potentially fatal malady that she was born with, and it was ticking time bomb. It could rupture at any time, and cause a major stroke or death. Treatment was an absolute must. We were stunned, and very frightened. However, in this horrific time of our life, somehow the universe lined up in Sandra’s favor. It brought her together with Dr. Bernard Bendok, leading neurosurgeon of AVM’s at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

From the first moment we met him we were very comfortable talking to him. There was a calmness about him and he explained all our options of treatments; we realized that he was highly knowledgeable in this area, so this put us very much at ease. Obviously we all were in agreement and opted for the best cure, which is the complete excision with the craniotomy. That created a major hurdle for both Sandra and Dr. Bendok. Sandra is an opera singer. The right frontal lobe is the area where the brain stores and utilizes speech, language, music and memory. All of these tools an opera singer uses every day in her craft. So Dr. Bendok ordered various specific and special MRI exams at the Northwestern research lab. There, they mapped out Sandra’s brain as she sang and listened to opera arias in different languages. This gave the surgeon a perfect blueprint as to where was safe to proceed and operate in my daughter’s brain without destroying her singing career. Dr. Bendok took into consideration not just to save my daughter’s physical life, but to look further than that, and save her “life” as well.

For Sandra, there is no life without singing. The seven hour surgery took place on December 22, 2012. Exactly six weeks later, Sandra returned for her last semester of school, completed her graduate school as scheduled receiving her Master’s Degree. She performed her Master’s Recital and Dr. Bendok and his family attended as guests. Currently she lives in New York, where she is participating in the resident artist program at the Dicapo Opera Theater, NYC. On December 2, she took the stage in the lead role as Belle, in the Beauty and the Beast. I know for sure, that this would not have been possible for Sandra if it wasn’t for Dr. Bendok and the staff at Northwestern Memorial. We are forever grateful to him, for his skills, his thoroughness, and his kindness. Sandra and Dr. Bendok are forever linked as he gave back her life and her love of singing to pursue her dreams.

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