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Whidbey General gets MRI of its own

"By even the most modest definitions, the new magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, unit at Whidbey General Hospital is one big magnet.Standing about eight feet tall and about six feet long, the new equipment was delivered to Coupeville last week and will be up and operating soon, according to hospital staff. The hospital has never owned its own MRI unit and has had to lease a portable system that is shared by other facilities throughout the region on a rotating basis. Magnetic resonance imaging is similar to X-ray and computerized tomography, or CT scans, in that it can create photographs of the inside of the human body without having to surgically open the patient. Unlike X-rays, which only see bone, MRIs show soft tissue such as organs, muscles, ligaments and blood vessels and are used to spot problems or diagnose conditions.They do this by creating a strong magnetic field around the body. Using measurements of the reaction of atoms within the body to high frequency radio waves, the unit can form surprisingly detailed pictures at various layers. MRIs were first put to use in the early 1980s and have become a valued piece of medical equipment throughout the world.We asked if we were doing enough of these to justify getting our own. The answer was yes, said the hospital's public affairs director Trish Rose.Ed Wertz, manager of Whidbey General's radiology department, said the hospital currently does about 100 MRIs each month. He expects that number to double once the new unit is up and running.Sheila Clapperton, accounting supervisor for Whidbey General, said the hospital has been paying about $45,000 per month to lease a portable MRI system, which arrives by truck twice a week. Under a new financing package the hospital will make monthly payments of $50,000 for not only the new MRI unit but a recently acquired nuclear medicine camera and two new ultrasound machines as well. Clapperton said the package ends up saving about $12,000 per month for MRI service and makes the unit available full time instead of just two times per week.Now Whidbey General Hospital officials hope a $5 million hospital expansion and remodeling bond gets voter approval Sept. 19. If so, the new MRI unit will have a permanent place inside a larger diagnostic imaging department within the hospital's main building. Currently it resides in its own separate, temporary building at the south end of the hospital. Wertz said the new MRI unit has advantages over earlier versions. It's shorter and has a larger opening, so that patients don't feel so enclosed or claustrophobic when they're placed inside. It's also faster, he said. That's important because patients need to hold very still while the unit is working or the photos will be blurred. In addition, patients can have the lighting adjusted and listen to music while the scans are being done.It's a pretty nice environment, said WertzHospital staff are expected to start training on the new MRI system Oct. 2 with the first patients scheduled a week later. According to Wertz, the system is already booked up for the first three weeks. "

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