Teenager tells brain surgeon before operation: 'If I don't make it, thanks for trying'

When teenager Beth McKenzie found out she had a brain tumour, she put her life in the hands of surgeon Roddy O'Kane and his team. Before the operation, she wrote a note saying she wouldn't blame him if she died, reports Louise Scott


When teenager Beth McKenzie went to the opticians suffering from headaches and eye pain, she never would have imagined she had a brain tumour.

At 15-years-old, Beth was quickly admitted to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, where surgeons told her she had a tumour the size of an orange and that they would have to remove it.

Neurosurgeon Roddy O’Kane explained to Beth that it would be a high-risk surgery due to the growth's proximity to critical blood vessels in the brain.

Despite the risk to her life, Beth’s concern was for the team trying to save her, and so she wrote them notes ahead of the surgery.

To her surgeon, Mr O'Kane, she wrote: "Thank you for saving me and treating me like an adult, telling me the truth, you’re right I can take it.

"Thank you for doing everything you can and if I didn’t make it in the end, thank you for trying and it’s not your fault. These things just happen."

Beth's note to Mr O'Kane, which he carries in his wallet to this day.

Beth said: “It was weird writing them. Because I was writing them in the sense of I wouldn’t be here.

"It was more of a 'whatever happens, happens'. If it doesn’t come out the way we all want it to, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s not your fault whatsoever.”

Mr O’Kane was handed the note just as he was preparing to step into the operating theatre.

“One of the theatre staff handed me this note and said Beth wants you to have this note," the surgeon said.

"So I of course, not knowing exactly what it was because I was trying to concentrate on what I’m about to do, then had to open this note.

"And as you can see it’s so heart-touching, it makes you stop, I think it nearly made my heart stop. Bit of pressure and a bit of fear, but something that’s so lovely.”


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The operation was a success, with the tumour removed from Beth’s brain without any damage to the blood vessels.

Further tests also confirmed Beth’s tumour was a Meningioma and non-malignant.

Since then, Mr O'Kane has kept the note very close to him.

He said: “I’m greatly superstitious. So the wee things like that; that mean so much to me; that grab my emotion and caught me for that moment; you never lose them. So I put it in my wallet.”

A scan of Beth's tumour, which has now been removed.

This was a surprise to the author of the note, who hadn't realised the impact she'd had.

Beth said: “I didn’t know he kept it in his wallet until recently. I thought maybe he just kept it in a little drawer or binned it maybe.

"But I didn’t know he kept it with him. It felt good to have an emotional connection to him as well as a doctor and patient one.”

It’s a unique doctor and patient bond, inscribed in a little note that will stay with Mr O'Kane through all his surgeries to come.