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Brain tumour miracle for Belfast man

A Belfast man has had a potentially deadly brain tumour removed without the need for surgery - thanks to revolutionary new treatment using gamma radiation.

Instead of going under the surgical knife, 50-year-old Jim Brown had his brain tumour zapped by a gamma knife which destroys abnormal tissue with pinpoint accuracy.

When the father-of-two was first treated for a brain tumour in 2005, it involved dissecting his skull in a major five-hour operation. He spent more than two weeks in hospital, including intensive care, and wasn't allowed to drive for several months.

Six years later, a scan revealed a new tumour, but this time all Jim required was the 55-minute non-invasive procedure and within days he was back on the golf course.

"The whole experience was so completely different to the major surgery I had to remove my first tumour," the 50-year-old said. "The gamma knife is a fantastic machine, offering hope and new treatment options for so many patients."

The treatment is not available in Northern Ireland. Instead Jim was flown to St James' Hospital in Leeds - known as 'Jimmy's' in the long-running TV series - which has a clinical partnership with the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust.

As part of the link-up, Belfast neurosurgeon Tom Flannery travels to the Leeds Gamma Knife Centre to treat NHS and private patients from across Ireland using the £3m machine. Jim was referred to Mr Flannery at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after an annual check-up MRI scan revealed an abnormality known as a meningioma, which affects the brain membrane.

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"I was told that the location and size of the new growth made me a classic case for the gamma knife," Jim said.

"My wife, Karen, accompanied me on the flight from Belfast and stayed with me at the on-site accommodation at the hospital. I was assessed on the Wednesday, had the procedure on the Thursday, and was well enough to fly back home on the Friday."

The golf enthusiast made a swift recovery and was delighted to be back on Donaghadee golf course where he is a former player of the year.

Mr Flannery trained in gamma knife radiosurgery at one of the world's leading centres, the University of Pittsburgh in the United States.

"The gamma knife is one of the biggest success stories in the medical world and it adds an extra dimension to the treatment options for patients with a range of brain conditions," Mr Flannery said.

"There is only a handful of gamma knives operating in the UK and the Leeds centre is the newest, home to the most advanced machine of its kind in the world.

"As patient volumes grow, it is hoped that this collaboration with Leeds will pave the way for Belfast to acquire its own gamma knife and create a specialist unit for the treatment of people locally."


Gamma knife treatment is the world's most advanced equipment in the fight against brain disease. Using 192 beams of gamma radiation, it directly targets a range of brain illnesses, including cancer, with pinpoint accuracy and avoids the need for open surgery. The procedure usually lasts less than an hour with patients rarely requiring an overnight hospital stay. Unlike major brain surgery, patients can resume normal activities within three days following treatment. Around 50,000 patients worldwide are treated each year using the gamma knife.

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