King’s neurosurgeon adapts equipment to reduce girl’s tumour

One year on, the 11-year-old patient has continued to voice a TV cartoon character and appeared on stage in London’s West End

Eleanor Stollery and Mr Bassel Zebian

A neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital in London has used specially modified surgical equipment to reduce the bulk of a tumour deep in the brain of an 11-year-old girl, allowing her to continue to follow her dream of performing.

Consultant Neurosurgeon, Mr Bassel Zebian, carried out an endoscopic procedure to debulk Eleanor Stollery’s brain tumour, using specially adapted equipment to access areas of the brain that are difficult to reach.

Just before she turned four, Eleanor was diagnosed with a low-grade optic pathway hypothalamic glioma (tumour in the centre of the brain) following a rapid decline in her eyesight.

Since then, Eleanor has undergone a long journey of chemotherapy and other targeted treatments under the care of Dr Fernando Carceller, Consultant Neuro-Oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, but the procedure at King’s in spring 2021 was the first surgical intervention to obtain a sample of the tumour and reduce its size.

Eleanor, whose vision is so severely impaired that she reads Braille and walks with a white cane, has a passion for music and performing. But with the tumour growing, chemotherapy options almost exhausted, and MRI scans indicating early signs of hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid in the brain), her health was in decline and her life at risk. Debulking the tumour (reducing its size by removing as much of it as possible) was seen as the most appropriate treatment option.

Eleanor’s father, Tim Stollery, said, “I carried out some independent research and read about Mr Zebian’s novel approach to treating children with brain tumours. Following a consultation, we found he could potentially remove more of the tumour than during a biopsy, using adapted instruments, so we decided this was the better option for Eleanor.”

“Four days after deep brain neurosurgery, with up to 25 percent of her tumour removed, Eleanor walked out of King’s, and soon after she was able to return to her work voicing a lead character in a children’s animation for Channel 5’s Milkshake, and again take to the stage in London’s West End at Christmas.

Mr Bassel Zebian, Consultant Neurosurgeon at King’s, said, “Although this procedure was never going to be curative for Eleanor, debulking the tumour was a way of improving her quality of life so she can carry on doing all the things she enjoys. It also allowed us to study Eleanor’s tumour more closely and tailor further therapy appropriately. It was a big team who looked after her, with her local neurosurgeon, Ms Samantha Hettige, taking part in the procedure.”

Mr Zebian modified an ultrasonic aspirator, stripping it down to its most basic parts, to allow it to fit down the endoscope to help debulk the tumour.

Tim Stollery added, “The pioneering procedure was amazing – it felt like we were at the leading edge of what is possible to treat Eleanor, allowing her the best possible outcome. I’m sure Mr Zebian’s work is inspiring other neurosurgeons to push boundaries and advance their work in this field.”