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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK


Brain surgery by phone

The climber fell 200 feet down Scafell Pike

Two surgeons carried out a lifesaving brain operation after linking up by telephone on opposite sides of the country.

Tyneside neurosurgeon Robin Sengupta gave step-by-step instructions over the telephone to consultant surgeon Chris Metcalfe-Gibson on the west coast in Cumbria.

The telephone link-up saved the life of 27-year-old climber Andrew Elder who suffered severe head injuries after plunging 200 feet down Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain.

Mr Elder was rushed to West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, where a scan revealed a blood clot on his brain.

Immediate surgery

Mr Sengupta was contacted, and decided that immediate surgery was needed as the patient might die in transit if transferred to the specialist head injuries unit at Newcastle General Hospital.

Instead Mr Sengupta gave telephone instructions on how to drill a 'burr hole' into the skull to release the clot and relieve pressure on the brain.

Mr Sengupta said: "I took the view that by the time he was brought here he would either die or suffer irreversible brain damage.

"I asked if there was a surgeon who could make a hole to take the pressure off the brain and a general surgeon was brave enough to make bore holes to take some of the clot out and relieve the pressure.

"It is extremely rare to give instructions over the telephone in this way, but there is no doubt in my mind that without the surgery in Whitehaven he would either have died or suffered brain damage."

Geographically remote

Dr Mike Green, part of the four-strong operating theatre team which included his anaesthetist wife Dr Karen Green and colleague Dr Nick West, said: "We are geographically remote and hours from a neurosurgical centre.

"Andrew was in an extremely dangerous position and we took advice which turned out to be extremely useful advice."

Eric Urquhart, chairman of West Cumbria Health Authority NHS Trust, said: "We are very proud of our staff who always strive to deliver excellence."

Mr Elder, of North Tyneside, was transferred to Newcastle General Hospital, for full scale surgery. He now is making a full recovery.

In July a British GP saved a man's life in the Australian outback by performing brain surgery with a rusty drill found in a school tool shed.

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