Almost a year to the day after it first launched, 12-year-old Jak Garlant, from Nottingham, joined staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital to celebrate the charity reaching the £1.5m target in its iMRI Appeal to bring an intraoperative MRI scanner to the hospital to transform brain surgery. 

Birmingham Children’s Hospital is home to one of the largest paediatric neurosurgical centres in the UK, but it is the only one without an iMRI scanner. The hospital will now be able to bring this state-of-the-art technology to patients, like Jak, for the first time.  

Currently, the hospital’s expert neurosurgeons rely on pre-operative images to plan an operation. However, during surgery, the brain, which is soft, will change shape. This means, very quickly, the pre-operative information becomes outdated, making it less reliable.     

By making an MRI intraoperative this means the MRI scanner is moved directly to the patient on an operating table, or the patient to the scanner, to ensure surgeons can obtain ‘live’ information about the position of the tumour right when they need it the most.   

It’s something Jak would have benefitted from when he received life-changing brain surgery last September. When Jak was 10, and while on holiday, his parents Sharon and Mark noticed his face had started involuntarily twitching. Once home, Sharon took him to his GP, but with the doctor unable to see the twitching themselves, it was presumed he had sunstroke. So began a series of follow-up appointments. It wasn’t until the twitching became a daily occurrence, and other symptoms, including a clawed hand, had developed that Jak was finally given an urgent MRI. 

Immediately after the scan, Sharon could tell something wasn’t right. The doctor broke the news that Jak had a brain tumour. It floored Sharon – she never imagined it would be that. Thankfully, it was small, benign and slow growing, so doctors decided prescribe epilepsy medication and monitor him.  

Over the next few months, his medication was adjusted when he began to experience absent seizures, and he was eventually put on the epilepsy pathway at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. As Jak’s type of tumour was renowned for being resistant to medication, the doctors told the family he was now eligible for surgery. It was a difficult decision for the family, but in the long-term, they knew removing the tumour was the best option for Jak  

On the day, Jak went down to the operating theatre at 9am. Sharon and Mark tried to keep themselves occupied by visiting the Police Museum opposite the hospital. They headed back to the ward at 5.30pm expecting to see him, but Jak wasn’t there, as Sharon explains: “We started to worry when we arrived back and found that Jak was still not back from surgery. It was another hour before his surgeon, Mr Lo, came down to tell us that his off-site MRI had shown there was still some tumour left, and they needed to head back to surgery for another few hours. We felt utterly deflated. 

During the operation, Jak’s surgeons wanted to check the tumour in his brain had been successfully removed, so while still under general anaesthetic, he was taken down to the hospital’s current MRI suite two floors below the theatre. This off-site MRI, coupled with the need to go back into surgery, meant Jak was under anaesthetic for 13 hours in total – something that can hopefully be avoided for future patients now the appeal total has been reached and iMRI technology can be introduced at the hospital. 

Sharon continues: “We had learned about the iMRI Appeal before Jak’s operation. When Mr Lo broke the news to us that he’d need to go back into surgery, it really sunk in, this is exactly why this interoperative technology is needed - so surgeons can see if all the tumour has been removed during surgery.” 

Thankfully, all of Jak’s tumour was eventually cleared and he’s been seizure-free since. Sharon says: “We were worried when Jak woke up, he wouldn’t be his normal, witty, bubbly self. But soon after he came round, he was cracking jokes. I thought ‘my Jak is back’, I was so relieved and so grateful. It’s just such wonderful news that other families in the future will be saved from the painfully long wait we had to endure during his surgery.”   

Mark Brider, CEO of Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity, said: “We’re thrilled to have reached this phenomenal amount raised – and in just 12 months! It’s a testament to the generosity of the public, local businesses and philanthropic organisations, who have all put their full support behind the appeal  

He continues: We’re a world-renowned hospital and it’s important that we can offer our patients the very best treatments and experience while with us. Once in place, the iMRI technology will transform surgery for our brain tumour and epilepsy patients. It will provide the ability to scan a patient mid or towards the end of surgery. In many cases, the family and surgeon is immediately reassured the tumour has been removed, but ultimately it vastly reduces the need for a second operation, sparing patients and families from going through another lengthy surgical procedure. 

“On behalf of our hospital, charity, patients and families, thank you to everyone who donated, fundraised and helped spread the word about this appeal.” 

Work is currently ongoing on a brand-new elective care hub at the hospital, which will house a new theatre, and the new iMRI in an adjacent room. Building is expected to be complete, and the iMRI in clinical use, in spring 2025.  

Watch our thank you video below: