Meet Heather Abramovic

Using a powerful new imaging technique, doctors can now see the inner workings of your brain like never before. High Definition Fiber Tracking (HDFT) creates a colorful three-dimensional image of the brain’s connections, showing how millions of nerve fibers communicate with each other.

HDFT makes more than a pretty picture. Pioneered at the University of Pittsburgh, this imaging technique can help doctors diagnose and treat patients with complex lesions (meaning tumors, injuries, or damaged blood vessels) located inside or next to extremely important brain areas. HDFT provides critical information so doctors can plan complex surgeries more safely.

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Hemorrhages and High-Risk Surgery: Heather’s Story

During her senior year of college, Heather Abramovic woke up in the middle of the night feeling pins and needles down the left side of her body. She was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors discovered bleeding near the base of her skull.

The bleeding, caused by a group of weak blood vessels called a cerebral cavernous malformation, didn’t cause any lasting problems at first, so her doctors decided to just monitor her condition instead of perform surgery. Heather was young, and the damaged blood vessels were located too near critical areas of her brain to be removed safely.

Unfortunately, Heather’s bleeding continued. She had four more hemorrhages, and the last one was so severe it nearly paralyzed her left side. Another bleed could cause permanent damage or even death. Despite the risks, surgery had become her only option.

How High Definition Fiber Tracking Helps Brain Surgeons

Heather came to Dr. Robert Friedlander, Chairman of the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery, who uses this technology to help plan surgery in hard-to-reach parts of the brain. Using images from MRI and HDFT scans, Dr. Friedlander could reach and remove Heather’s lesions while avoiding important bundles of nerves.

Heather’s case is just one example of how High Definition Fiber Tracking can help reduce complications and save lives. For example, doctors can also use HDFT for people with brain tumors and traumatic brain injuries. The scans show where damage has occurred and pinpoint what abilities or functions may suffer. Medical researchers have already identified 40 major fiber tracts (bundles of nerves) and continue to map out more.

After her surgery, Heather is recovering well. She goes to physical therapy regularly to strengthen her left side, and she and her doctors hope for a full recovery.

Dr. Friedlander says, “I remember when I saw my first MRI of the brain. I knew that it was going to be a big change in the way that we’re able to diagnose and treat patients. This, to me, is the next big step. High Definition Fiber Tracking allows us to know what the problems are with the connections within the brain.”

To learn more about the latest developments in the field or to find answers to your questions about issues related to the brain and nervous system, visit the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery website or call 1-877-986-9862 to make an appointment.

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year, making our team one of the most experienced in the world. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. Find an expert near you.