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Out with the old to make way for new MRI at Naval Hospital Bremerton

29 September 2023

From Douglas Stutz

-- It was out with the old to make way for the new for Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Radiology Department.The magnetic resonance imaging scanner– more commonly referred to as an MRI –has been removed after 13 years of use and is being replaced with an updated, enhanced MRI scanner.The removal process was a heavy lift which required a host of
-- It was out with the old to make way for the new for Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Radiology Department.

The magnetic resonance imaging scanner– more commonly referred to as an MRI –has been removed after 13 years of use and is being replaced with an updated, enhanced MRI scanner.

The removal process was a heavy lift which required a host of logistical and safety protocols. It took an industrial crane to haul the more than three tons of advanced imaging capability – along with approximately 1,600 liters of liquid helium in it to keep the scanner cool - from its setting, a process which also necessitated detaching the entire roof to accommodate the move.

According to Matthew Hodgson, NHB Radiology Department MRI technologist, the current machine was removed because it’s past its end of life.

“The original manufacturer does not make that scanner anymore and would not renew a maintenance contract on it because they don’t manufacture parts for it,” said Hodgson, citing scientific specifics that the recently removed machine was a 1.5 Tesla MRI scanner, equal to 15,000 gauss or 30,000 times stronger than earth’s magnetic field.

“It is being replaced with a new 1.5 Tesla MRI scanner with a larger bore and less equipment to use due to the technology having advanced 13 years since the old one was installed,” explained Hodgson, noting that the larger bore will make it more accessible to larger patients and easier for claustrophobic patients to tolerate the procedure.

“It will have much better image quality with the newer equipment and the workflow will be much faster,” insisted Hodgson,

Simply put, with the MRI producing even better image quality, the radiologist can continue to make essential and accurate diagnosis for the referring health care provider(s) to treat their patient(s).

The MRI is an advanced imaging machine that uses radio waves and magnetic fields to produce images in a non-invasive way by internally scanning for such health concerns as concussions and brain injuries, as well as tissue, organ, bone and ligament damage. It can also used for more complicated patient clinical presentations and symptoms, musculoskeletal/orthopedic injury evaluation, or with patients that are having a slowed recovery from their injuries.

Hodgson attests that the MRI scanner is much better at looking at soft tissues such as muscle, tendons/ligaments, cartilage, spinal cord and brain rather than just relying on an X-ray or Ultrasound.

“But is not a replacement for those modalities,” stressed Hodgson. “Ultrasound and X-ray will still do some things better than MRI and will often provide a diagnosis so that the patient will not have to get an MRI.”

There were approximately 1,450 MRI exams done last year, a patient load which is expected to increase.

“We will hopefully get back to our pre COVID-19 numbers, which were twice as much as last year,” said Hodgson.

Compiled statistics show in 2019 that NHB’s MRI conducted 2,492 studies with 508,940 images.

In the time that Hodgson and Ms. Johana Fanara, also an MRI technologist, have been assigned to NHB, they have responded to a variety of patient needs, from locally helping to save a child’s life to providing international assistance down range in Afghanistan.

It was during one early fall day some years ago when Hodgson was reviewing initial brain images of a young patient when he recognized a serious abnormality. With his attention to detail and background expertise, he instantly notified the radiologist, ensuring that timely medical assistance was immediately provided to help the beneficiary.

“We actually do that all the time. We’re always looking at images. Either one of us who sees anything we immediately call radiology. We know anatomy and are aware of pathology, which radiology knows. We’re always watching anyone for anything,” said Hodgson.

Once the radiologist was notified about the young patient’s condition, it was confirmed that there was the presence of a serious brain abnormality. Hodgson and Fanara immediately modified and tailored the MRI exam to more appropriately assess the brain abnormality.

Hodgson’s concern for the patient's well-being and quick response allowed for a thorough MRI exam to be performed during the initial visit which contributed to a timely diagnosis in minutes rather than hours or even days. That lead to the patient's healthcare provider being contacted with a timely working diagnosis. The young patient was immediately transferred to a major pediatric hospital for potentially lifesaving treatment.

A few years earlier, with the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries caused by improvised explosive devices becoming widespread throughout the southern provinces of Afghanistan amongst coalition forces, an MRI machine was brought to Camp Leatherneck, part of Joint Operating Base and British-run Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Yet that was only part of the equation. In order to have the scanner up and running, Hodgson and Fanara provided critical advanced technical support to establish the needed MRI program.

Fast forward to the here and now. The new scanner, along with all the complex examinations protocols, safety documents, standard operation procedures and screening forms in place should be ready towards the end of the calendar year.

Hodgson and Fanara are already in place.

If an MRI is currently requested by a physician, eligible patients can be sent to either Madigan Army Medical Center or in the local network.

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