Zavaroni Operation Was Not A New Technique

Oct. 4, 1999

The hospital where tragic former childhood star Lena Zavaroni died following brain surgery has rejected claims she had undergone pioneering treatment.

Miss Zavaroni, 35, died on Friday from an infection after experts at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff carried out delicate neurosurgery to try to cure her mental illness.

The former singer, who shot to fame at the age of nine, had suffered from clinical depression for many years.

She had also battled against the slimmers' disease anorexia nervosa which caused her weight to plummet to less than four stone.

In the months before her death, she was living in a small former council flat in Hertfordshire.

It had been claimed the surgery she under went was an "experimental" technique.

But a spokesman for the University Hospital of Wales said yesterday the operation had been carried out there for more than six years.

In a statement, he said: "A special surgical procedure is available as a last-resort treatment for the most severe cases of chronic clinical depression.

"It's not a treatment for anorexia and it's not a lobotomy.

"It's available only at a small number of specialist neurosurgical centres in the United Kingdom, of which the University Hospital of Wales is one.

"This is not an experimental or pioneering procedure - the NHS treatment has been performed successfully at the hospital for over six years.

"Each operation is approved individually by the Mental Health Commission and surgery can only be performed after a rigorous examination of all the facts in each case.

"This includes an interview with the patient and all the healthcare professionals involved."

A post mortem examination will be carried out this week before Cardiff coroner Dr Lawrence Addicott decides whether to order an inquest into Miss Zavaroni's death.

Lena Zavaroni dies

Former child singing star Lena Zavaroni has died, aged 35.

Ms Zavaroni fought a long battle with anorexia, and had been in hospital for several weeks. She is thought to have developed an infection after an operation, and members of her family were with her when she died at the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff.

A hospital spokesman said: "We are sad to confirm that Miss Zavaroni died at our hospital where she had been receiving medical treatment for the past four weeks. "All the medical staff and nurses who cared for her send their sympathies to the family.

Ms Zavaroni, from Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, shot to fame after appearing in Opportunity Knocks in 1974, where she had an unprecedented five-week run. This was followed by the chart-topping Ma, He's Making Eyes At Me and at the age of 12 she sang for the Queen at a Royal Variety performance. But the following year she developed the slimming disease that was to plague her for years.

Her cousin Margaret told the Scottish Daily Record after her death: "The whole family is devastated. She said Lena's father, Victor, could hardly speak when he told relatives of the death. Lena developed anorexia aged just 13 and fought the disease as hard as she could," she said. "Doctors performed an operation to help her eat but she developed an infection and wasn't strong enough to recover from it. Our only comfort is that other girls with anorexia will take something from Lena's death. She is an example of what can happen when young women develop an obsession with their weight."

Her cousin Margaret said funeral arrangements had not yet been decided, and it was not yet known if it would take place in Rothesay or in England. She said Lena's father Victor, his wife Christine, and Lena's sister Carla, who lives near London, were with her when she died. "It is devastating", said Ms Zavaroni. "She had been in hospital for about two weeks, and the operation was to help her eat, but she developed an infection. I still can't believe it's happened. "I was on the phone to my uncle Victor last night, and we were all crying - we were all too upset." She said Lena's father was too upset to speak publicly about her death.

Singer Bonnie Langford, who was at stage school with Lena, said in a statement: "I am deeply saddened that such a lovely person is no longer with us. She was an incredibly gifted and very sweet person. It is a tragedy that she has died so young."

Former Fleet Street editor and radio and TV presenter Derek Jameson expressed his sadness at the news of Zavaroni's death. she hadstruck him as "bright and very bubbly". He said: "Only 35. What a tragic waste of a life. She showed incredible potential in her early years and then she was struck down by this terrible disease anorexia nervosa. She was destroyed by something as ridiculous as an eating disorder. Surely something more can be done to help these young people who have this terribly serious problem." Mr Jameson added: "She was bright and bubbly but she was also very nervous. I think her great handicap was that she lacked confidence. When you interviewed her you felt she was making an immense effort to be a star and it was all a bit much for her. She lacked that vital spark of confidence that takes you to the top."

Star dies following brain surgery

Lena Zavaroni, who shot to fame as a child performer, died following brain surgery in a final attempt to beat anorexia. An inquest is likely to be held into her death at the age of 35. Lena was admitted to the 1,800-bed University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff last month for the treatment.

She had the operation - in itself not thought to be dangerous - two weeks ago but developed a blood infection which caused heart failure. Her father Victor, aged 60, was at her bedside when she died.

Hospital spokesman Bob Burrows said: "Everyone at the hospital is upset that someone so young has died. "She had made friends with many of our medical staff and had become very popular in the time she was with us." Mr Burrows declined to discuss the brain operation carried out on Lena. However, it is understood to have been a leucotomy, an operation that involves cutting into the brain and is considered to be low risk.

The operation was developed in the 1930s, when the medical establishment embraced it enthusiastically. It remained popular until the late 1950s when, with the introduction of effective drugs, the operation became a rarely-performed procedure. Doctors wishing to perform a leucotomy now must first get a second opinion and then permission from the Mental Health Act Commission. Mr Burrows said: "Miss Zavaroni came to Cardiff because we are one of the few centers that carry out this operation. "The singer's death will be reported to Cardiff Coroner Dr. Lawrence Addicott because she died following elective surgery."

Talent show

Lena was born on the Isle of Bute in Scotland and shot to stardom at the age of 10 on Hughie Green's talent show in the 1970s. But she developed an eating disorder by the time she was 13 and at one time her weight went down to 3 stone 12lbs. She was so ill that she begged doctors to remove part of her brain that she believed was controlling her anorexia.

Before going in to hospital Lena was living in a council flat and surviving on £48.80 state handouts and getting help from the show business charity The Water Rats. Her relatives in Scotland were "deeply shocked" after being told of the singer's tragic death.

— Caring Online

(Unfortunately Caring Online has removed their article on Lena Zavaroni) which is why I have decided to add the full article here.