SIH News

 Imaging machine heralds new era in health care

A woman has chest pain which cannot be explained by traditional methods. She is taken to the radiology department for an ultra-high resolution CT scan of the heart that takes just 19 seconds. In minutes, doctors are looking at images of her heart and arteries in perfect detail. Adjusting the computer, they virtually “fly” through her blood vessels where they spot a blockage. She needs a cardiac catheterization to open up the blocked artery and prevent a heart attack.

The incredible imaging technology the doctors used for this woman has not been available in southern Illinois: at least, not until now.

Memorial Hospital of Carbondale now has the latest and best in imaging technology with a 64-slice computed tomography (CT) scanner from Toshiba America Medical Systems, a leader in high definition medical imaging.

“This piece of technology is evidence of the total commitment Memorial Hospital is making to provide the ultimate in cardiac care to the people of southern Illinois,” said George Maroney, hospital administrator.

Maroney said the tremendous speed at which the machine records detailed images allows function of organs such as the brain, heart, liver and kidneys to be tracked in real time. This means doctors can see exactly how organs, especially the heart, are working and diagnose conditions that they previously could not with other CT machines.

Jeffrey Gremmels, MD, a radiologist reading for the SIH system, said the new technology allows the radiologist to, “Evaluate blood perfusion (the flow of blood) in arteries and vital organs and diagnose conditions previously poorly evaluated by CT,” and without, “a more invasive procedure such as cardiac catheterization, which is associated with higher risk.” Gremmels, who is board certified and Harvard trained in CT imaging and interpretation, said the new scanners allow more patients faster access to a safer method of evaluating the arteries and veins.

For example, they can spot blood clots, image cancerous tumors in the lungs or brain, get precise pictures of bone fractures, identify pre-cancerous growths (polyps) in the colon or identify heart problems before heart attacks occur.

CT scanners use X-rays and capture images by rotating a camera around a donut-like opening while the patient moves through the machine on a table called the gantry. Each time the camera rotates, it emits X-ray beams to create images of the body in 0.5mm cross-section pictures called “slices.” These slices are very detailed pictures of both hard and soft tissue such as organs and bones. During a CT scan hundreds of slices are recorded and then reassembled on a computer to create a complete 3-dimensional image of the body in less than a minute. This image can be manipulated and viewed from any angle, magnified, and even viewed with layers of tissue stripped away.

Traditional CTs acquire 8-16 ‘slices’ in one rotation, but the new machine at Memorial can acquire 64 slices. Images are captured so quickly that doctors can see detailed “freeze frame” pictures of moving organs.

“Previous scanners showed these as blurry and indistinct,” said cardiologist Raja Maddipoti, MD. As a cardiologist, it is essential for him to get clear, precise images of the heart and arteries and to identify the exact locations of blockages in order to make the best diagnosis.

For example, with the new machine, Maddipoti can identify the exact locations of blockages or damaged valves. He can also see plaque forming in arteries and measure coronary artery narrowing (stenosis) before heart attacks occur.

“The heart is a moving target,” he explained. “You want to get a picture in a single breath. This means sharper images and less radiation to the patient.”

The 64-slice scanner will also improve patient comfort. Scans of the entire body last less than 20 seconds, which means less discomfort for the patient and less time in the radiology department away from nursing staff and monitors. In addition, the current CT machine at the hospital will remain in service. With two machines running, there will be less wait time for outpatients. The new scanner is already in use, but CT heart studies will probably not begin until June.

“Our Cardiologist and our Cardiac Surgeons are being provided with the ultimate in cutting edge technology to insure that the people of southern Illinois have unequaled cardiac care available to them,” Maroney said.

CT 64 slice scan of the heart. Note the thickened areas of the arteries where stents have been placed by a cardiologist.