Credit: Michael Desmond/ABC via Getty Images Photo: The Doctors Pass out during Surgery in Grey's Anatomy Season 3, Episode 14, "Wishin' and Hopin'"

We all cringed and shielded our eyes during the huge operation led by Dr. Shepherd last episode, but is such gnarly surgery ever done in real life? Do chordoma patients like Greg really have to have their faces split open? According to the show’s director of medical research, Meg Marinis, they sometimes do. Wait, hold up — what is a chordoma anyway? It’s a rare slow-growing malignant tumor, the kind that gets Derek’s adrenaline pumping.

The surgery performed on the show involved splitting the hard and soft palates and removing the upper teeth -- it’s called Le Fort osteotomy. But apparently, the surgery we witnessed was that surgery taken up a notch, since the doctors also split the jaw, the tongue, and both sets of teeth to have complete access to the base of the spine where the chordoma was. And, as we saw, recovery from this type of operation takes both time and a pretty high pain threshold. But the good news is that operations like these might be relics of the past. Researchers at Northwestern University are developing minimally-invasive endoscopic procedures that would allow access to brain tumors through the patient’s nose. Perhaps soon, patients like Greg can keep their head in one piece and won’t even have to bear what Derek called “victory pain.”


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