New technology gives Carson residents better brain and body scans

I was excited to find out I have all my marbles.

It was really fascinating to be able to see pictures of sections of my brain viewed from several different angles.

About two months ago, the folks at Great Basin Imaging, formerly known as Carson Imaging, asked if I would like to have my brain scanned.

GBI, a partnership between the Tahoe-Carson Radiology group and Carson-Tahoe Hospital, recently installed a new, state-of-the-art magnetic imaging machine at the hospital.

Why not help the group test it out and get a story out of it, too? All right.

I wandered into the imaging office Tuesday, and after determining I had no metal implanted in my body, MRI Supervisor Brett Borgers took my credit cards away. Actually, he wouldn't let me take my purse into the MRI room. The magnetic field created by the 4-ton imaging magnet has 25,000 times the force of Earth's gravity, Borgers said. It has the power to attract the average industrial size floor buffer and apparently has the power to destroy the average Visa card.

The new Intera machine sits freely in the middle of a room, looking for all the world like an oversized, yellow doughnut. Above the machine, a painting of sky, trees and butterflies is meant to calm those nervous about the MRI procedure.

MRI technology works like this: Our bodies are made up of 95 percent hydrogen atoms which at any given time are spinning around at random. When subjected to the force of a strong magnetic field, the hydrogen atoms line up and spin the same direction. Radio waves are passed through the body, and the hydrogen gives off a signal. That signal with the aid of computer technology becomes a picture, or more accurately, dozens of pictures.

Dr. David Landis, radiology group president, said the old MRI machine still works perfectly and will continue to be used for routine procedures. But he compares the new Intera machine and the old GE4X to personal computers.

"There is a lot of difference between a PC 10 years ago and one now," Landis said. "The same changes have happened in MRI technology. We're able to do certain things now we weren't able to do before."

I am not claustrophobic, which is one problem thousands of people have with MRI machines. Still, federal regulations require that Borgers give MRI patients an emergency beeper. The new technology eliminates hours in an MRI machine, reducing some scans to minutes.

Landis also compared the machines to cannons and doughnuts. With the old machine, people are like a shell waiting to be shot out, he said. A trip to the new machine is like hanging out in the middle of a doughnut, he said. The old machine has an entire room dedicated to the computers that run the machine. The Intera computers fit under Borgers' desk. The computers load about 196 images per second, Borgers said.

The Intera has a shorter magnet, which means less of a person has to be in the machine at a time. For work not involving the head and neck area, a person can lie in the machine with their head free, watching the fake butterflies on the ceiling or perhaps reading a magazine. The cooling fan is more powerful and it is brighter inside, Borgers said. The machine can handle larger patients over 400 pounds.

Helen Hamilton, 77, of Carson City, was anxious when she came in for an MRI for her back Tuesday. Years ago, she tried to have an MRI but her claustrophobia made her too nervous to endure the procedure. Her scan Tuesday took about 20 minutes.

"That was not bad at all," she said. "They used to stick you in a tube. This was wonderful. There are lots of people like me. A lot of people can do this now that couldn't before."

For those who get to have their brain or back scanned, I suggest a nap. Helen actually fell asleep. Borgers does have a music collection and will gladly play a CD for you while you try to lie still.

While not afraid of confined spaces, I am, apparently, squirmy.

Borgers can communicate with patients through a microphone and headphone set. He interrupted my musings to Reba McIntyre music to tell me to quit looking around, which I failed to hear for some reason. The result was my eyeballs making motion tracks over my MRI film. I thought I was doing a fine job lying still. I was out of the machine within three and a half Reba tunes, about 15 minutes.

The radiology group has six doctors and has been serving the Carson area for about 20 years, Landis said.

The new machine allows the doctors to see things in the body more clearly. Even brain chemicals can be scanned by the machine. Called spectrocity, being able to examine brain chemicals is leading edge technology that could lead to less invasive procedures in many patients. MRI technology is used for everything from diagnosing bone and muscle problems to diagnostic work for blood vessels.

A scan costs about $1,000 more or less depending n the procedure.

"There's no doubt this is expensive," Landis said. "But is also can be cost effective because it could prohibit all the extra tests."

Tahoe-Carson Radiology also has a film less system which allows doctors to examine patient results in 3-D immediately almost anywhere in the hospital.

The hospital helped the radiology group purchase the $2 million machine, which is one of only three operating Intera machines in the country.

"This isn't an 800-bed university facility, yet here were are in little old Carson City with this technology," Landis said. "We'll have bragging rights for a little while until new technology comes out."

Just so you know, my brain is fine.


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