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07 May 2015

Groundbreaking new equipment funded by the Grand Appeal helps place Bristol Children’s Hospital neurosurgery among the best in the world

Intra-op MRI

Bristol Children's Hospital is at the cutting edge of Paediatric Neurosciences thanks to groundbreaking surgical technology, funded by The Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children's Hospital charity.

The hospital is one of only two in the UK and only a handful in Europe to have a pioneering 3T MRI scanner and intraoperative scanning suite for paediatric neurosurgery patients, placing it among the very best in the world for patients requiring surgery on the head, brain and spine. 

It is also the first hospital in the south of England to provide such advanced treatment for sick babies and children. The only other UK hospital with these capabilities is Alder Hey in Liverpool.

The scanner's tremendous power and precise image-guidance technology allows surgeons to operate on complex tumours in the very deepest parts of the brain. Ahead of surgery, the scanner can analyse the awake brain to identify the location of vital functions such as speech and movement, helping surgeons to avoid them during operation.

Furthermore, surgeons can conduct further scans during a procedure to track their progress. This means patients only need undergo one anaesthetic, for one procedure, reducing the medical risk and emotional distress for the child.

The Grand Appeal funded the scanner through donations to its 'Gromit Unleashed' arts trail, as well as through major donations to the charity from Children With Cancer and Garfield Weston Foundation.

'Gromit Unleashed' saw eighty statues of Aardman Animations' canine sidekick Gromit installed across Bristol in 2013. The auction of the sculptures raised a cracking two million three hundred thousand pounds for the Grand Appeal.

The very first patient to be treated using the scanner was Jack Mooney, from Kingsteignton in Devon, who was just eight years old when he underwent surgery at Bristol Children's Hospital. Jack had suffered from two types of epilepsy causing daily seizures since the age of five, leading specialists diagnosed a large, low grade tumour known as a Dysembryonic Neuroepithelial Tumour (DNET) deep in his brain.

Despite Jack taking three types of epilepsy medications at the maximum dose, his seizures remained uncontrolled, leaving surgery the only option.  The operation and the tumour's location threatened Jack's speech, movement and sense of smell.

Jack went into surgery in December 2014 and the tumour was completely removed in one 13 and a half hour procedure. Had it not been for the scanner, Jack would have had to undergo further operations to fully remove the tumour, possible causing irreversible damage to areas of his brain.

He was discharged from hospital four days later, and is now a happy, healthy nine-year-old.

Mike Carter, consultant neurosurgeon at Bristol Children's Hospital, said, "This groundbreaking new piece of equipment gives us the capability to conduct complex procedures that two years ago would have been inconceivable. We would never have been able to bring this groundbreaking technology to the hospital without the support of the Grand Appeal.

"We can now carry out scans in the operating theatre, in real time, providing precise information during the operation itself. This enables the complete removal of tumours and reduces the need for additional surgeries, which can be very stressful for the child and their family. Without the availability of the scanner, it is likely that Jack would have had to have as many as three more operations; instead, he was able to go home just days later.

"We are immensely proud to be the only hospital in the South of England to have such powerful, dedicated paediatric technology."

Jack's mother, Rachael Mooney, said, "The seizures were very frightening for Jack and disrupted his social life and education for many years, so to see him able to live a full and happy childhood is just incredible. While he still needs regular check-ups, Jack is on much less medication than before. He is less tired and aggressive, and is back at school full time.

"The surgery has absolutely transformed Jack's life, and we are all very thankful to everyone who supported the Grand Appeal and 'Gromit Unleashed'. Without their kind donations our lives would still be on hold, but now we can move forward."

Nicola Masters, director of the Grand Appeal, said, "As Jack's case shows, this is a truly revolutionary piece of equipment that is already changing the lives of patients and their families. We are very proud that our 'Gromit Unleashed' trail played a part in making that happen and I'd like to thank everyone who donated to the Grand Appeal and 'Gromit Unleashed'. It is thanks to your support that we are able to help the hospital invest in life-saving technology, and provide children and babies from an ever-expanding area with such world-class treatment."

The Grand Appeal is bringing a new sculpture trail to Bristol this July: 'Shaun in the City'. Seventy uniquely-designed sculptures of Shaun the Sheep will be installed all over the city from 6 July to 31 August, before being auctioned to raise funds for the Grand Appeal in the autumn.

Intra-op 1

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Appeal

The Grand Appeal has raised over £31 million to support sick babies and children at Bristol Children's Hospital and the Special Care Baby Unit at St Michael's Hospital providing life-saving equipment, patient activities, new services and family accommodation. The Appeal runs Cots for Tots House - a 12 bedded family accommodation unit for the parents of critically ill babies treated in the Special Care Baby Unit.

Bristol Children's Hospital is one of the UK's leading children's hospitals treating patients from across the South West, South Wales and beyond with life-threatening illnesses and serves as the pediatric intensive care centre for the whole South West region. The hospital is an international, national and regional specialist centre of excellence for a range of services including neurosurgery, burns, cardiac, leukaemia and bone marrow transplants.

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Appeal will benefit from funds raised from the flock of 70 Shaun in the City sculptures placed in Bristol during summer 2015.  For more information, visit