OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A Tulsa teenager has undergone the first pediatric awake brain tumor removal in Oklahoma, a groundbreaking success for the 16-year-old’s family, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, and the state.

It began as seizures for 16-year-old Herman Martin III, who in March 2022 had to go the hospital. 

Herman Martin III undergoing brain surgery. Image from OU Health.

“First of all, it was a surprise,” he said. “I go to sleep and the next thing I remember, I’m in an ambulance.”

Doctors would discover a golf-ball-sized mass in the center of his brain’s speech center above his left ear.  Herman and his family would ultimately find themselves preparing for a high-risk brain surgery — the first of its kind in Oklahoma. If the procedure didn’t go well, Herman could lose his ability to speak.

“We were all scared and all didn’t know what to expect,” said the teenager’s mother, Jessica Flanagan-Martin.

Oklahoma Children’s Hospital – OU Health’s Dr. Virendra Desai called Herman was the perfect candidate for the state’s first pediatric awake brain tumor removal, which took place July 5, 2022.

“Because he is able to keep his calm and you can tell when you talk to him, he’s a confident, smart guy who’s not highly anxious, which is kind of the main thing,” he explained.

Herman explained some of his pre-procedure feelings with KFOR.

“If they’re being allowed to do this surgery, then, I mean, even if this is a dangerous surgery, I know that these people know what they’re doing,” he said. “I just had to stay positive the whole time, because if you stay negative, negative things are going to happen. But if you stay positive, positive things are going to happen.”

For four hours, the medical team operated, keeping the 16-year-old constantly talking to ensure they caused no damage to his speech.

“So, any time we see any problem with his ability to speak or if he’s jumbling up his words or slurring, we stop, we take a second and we decide should we keep going or not,” Dr. Desai explained.

They were able to get 70 to 80 percent of the tumor removed — what Dr. Desai called a success — explaining that if Herman had been asleep as in traditional procedures, they may only have removed only ten to 20 percent of it.

“I think it went great,” he said. “I think mainly because Herman was such a trooper and wanted to do it and cooperated so well, we were able to take out probably 5 to 6 times the amount of tumor as we could have the old way.” 

Hernan is still getting a grasp on what his procedure means for the bigger picture.

“It just feels really special, you know?” he said. “It feels like I contributed somehow to medical research. Even though it’s probably been done in other states, it feels good to help Oklahoma like this.”

Dr. Desai said they plan to gradually take Herman off his seizure medication in the next few months and their hope is that once he’s off it, he’ll have no more seizures.