Nine-year-old Cian Fitzgerald, from Coventry, is the face of Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity’s latest fundraising appeal, to bring an intraoperative MRI (iMRI) scanner to the hospital, which will help transform life-changing brain tumour and epilepsy surgery at the hospital. It’s something Cian would have benefitted from, after he received a 13-hour operation for a benign brain tumour last year. 

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 charity’s £1.5m iMRI Appeal will bring this state-of-the-art technology to patients, like Cian, 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 This means, very quickly, the pre-operative information becomes outdated, making it less reliable.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.   

Mr. William Lo, paediatric neurosurgeon at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, explains the need: “Having access to iMRI technology during surgery is critical as it will provide up-to-date images of the brain to allow surgical procedures to continue without delay. Without it, it’s like navigating a city with an outdated roadmap.  

“The ability to scan a patient mid or towards the end of surgery is transformative. 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. The facility will benefit at least 60 children a year – more than one a week – and could increase our neurosurgical team’s capacity to perform additional operations.” 

The iMRI scanner is something Cian Fitzgerald would have benefitted from when he received life-changing brain surgery last year. Out of the blue, Cian had started to experience ‘fuzzy’ headaches, confusion and vacant seizures, which began to increase with intensity. His parents, Louise and Paddy, were shocked to learn he had a benign brain tumour.  

He was referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital and subsequently received a 13-hour operation. An operation which could have lasted around six hours if the hospital had this leading-edge intraoperative MRI technology. 

Paddy says: “It was the longest day of our lives. We tried to keep ourselves busy, but it was as if the clocks had stopped and the longer it went on, the more anxious we felt. We just wanted to know he was awake and okay.” 

During the operation, surgeons wanted to check the tumour in Cian’s 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. Sadly, Cian needed to return to surgery.   

“That second wait was the hardest,” continues Paddy. “My mind was racing thinking ‘this is such a long time for a child to be asleep’.” After an additional five hours in theatre, 13 hours in total, all the tumour was removed, and Cian was brought back to the ward, where he continued to recover. His seizures were cured.  

Louise adds: “By supporting this appeal, you will be helping the surgeons do the best job they can while reducing the stress for families like ours. You simply can’t put a price on the impact the new iMRI suite will have.”   

Mark Brider, CEO of Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity, said: “The need for state-of-the-art intraoperative MRI technology is very clear. It allows our hospital’s neurosurgeons to accurately and confidently identify, during a surgical procedure, whether they have removed all the tumour, right when they need the information the most.  

“Please supportour £1.5m iMRI Appeal and help us to transform life-saving brain tumour and epilepsy surgery at the hospital.”   

To find out more about the iMRI Appeal, or to donate, please visit our iMRI appeal.