PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- It's one thing to need brain surgery, it's quite another to know that you will be awake for part of the operation.
But that's what doctors at the Mayo Clinic are doing because they say it gives them real time feedback on what's working and what isn't.
Dr. Bernard R. Bendok is the chair of neurosurgery.
"As far as we know, the human brain is the most amazing complex computer in the universe, we’ve yet to encounter anything more sophisticated and more capable," he said.
Bendok has made it his mission to better understand the human brain and all of its complex nuances.
"I deal a lot with the function of the brain and it's structure and how to repair it when it's gone off track and not heading in the right direction or inflicted with a disease we can either contain or cure," he said.
But it's a quest he can't achieve on his own.
In addition to the large team of doctors and nurses in the operating room, he needs his patients.
And he needs them to be awake.
And part of the process.
"Normally when you fix a computer, you want to unplug it for safety reasons right? But imagine if you could fix a computer, re-wire it with the computer on and you would have the immediate knowledge of whether you’re totally damaging that computer and getting that feedback on whether something is working or you’re on the right path at least," he explained.
He said it has taken decades to learn how to keep patients awake for this, but the benefit is the immediate feedback.
"While we do have pre-operative maps there’s nothing like testing the function in real-time so we can stimulate that part of the brain and see if there’s a change in speech. If there is, we probably want to come at the tumor from a different angle," he said.
He said procedures like this are all part of a larger plan to make these surgeries safer and more precise.
For clarification, he said patients are asleep for the incision but awakened just for the brain mapping part of the procedure.