A Steady Hand

Dr. Betancourt

Dr. Betancourt offers new laser services at Valley Baptist Medical Center

It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to tell you that neurosurgery can be a stressful experience. Both patient and surgeon involved in a craniotomy – an open procedure where patients’ skulls are opened to remove a tumor – may initially experience nerves at the exposed, delicate operation before them. But while patients would have been prepping for this moment for days in the hospital, the surgeons have trained for years. They have developed a steady hand that now, thanks to Medtronic technology, guides the Visualase MRI-guided laser ablation system, a revolutionary tool for neurosurgery.

The Visualase laser treats tumors less than 3 centimeters long. A 1-inch incision is made on the back of a patient’s head where a laser applicator can be placed and then guided to where the tumor is located. The laser gives off heat, which destroys the tumor as doctors monitor any nearby tissue to make sure it is not damaged during the procedure. Once the applicator is removed, the small incision is then closed with one stitch.

Dr. Alejandro Betancourt

is the first neurosurgeon south of Houston who has done this procedure; he practices at Brownsville’s Valley Baptist Medical Center and Edinburg’s Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. Though he remembers his first experiences performing craniotomies, he is relieved that modern technology is allowing surgeons to work on and around the brain without having to open skulls. Without this major incision, surgery and recovery are far less painful. “The procedure is more precise and minimally invasive. Patients can be in and out of the hospital within one to two days,” says Betancourt. He answers some questions patients have had in the past:

Q: How long does recovery at home take and what (if any) special considerations do patients need to take?

“Typically, a patient can return to their regular routine once they’re out of the hospital. The only special requirement we have patients go through is that they not drive for at least two weeks.

Also, our patients are given medication to prevent seizures and swelling in the head, something that has yet to happen with our patients.”

Q: Are there any individuals who are not candidates for this surgery? Example: If I have a pacemaker and thus can’t get an MRI, will I be able to do it?

“If a candidate cannot get an MRI, then we have them run a CAT scan if necessary as a substitute. The only patients who can’t be candidates for this surgery are those taking blood thinners or have any infectious diseases that may complicate the surgery. Also, as the technology for this procedure is at the beginning stages, it can only treat tumors shorter than 3 centimeters.”

Q: What do you see for the future of this technology?

“Again, the Medtronic Visualase treats tumors shorter than 3 centimeters, so hopefully within 5 to 10 years we’ll see this technology evolve so much that it can treat bigger tumors. So far, I am the only doctor south of Houston who has been trained in doing this procedure and I’d love to support this treatment in any way I can. I’d be willing to help train more doctors to do this procedure. It is the future of the treatment of tumors.”