Look into your heart: Shelby hospital’s new technology makes it easier

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2008

By ASHLEY VANSANT / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – It wasn’t expected to start saving lives before its public introduction, but new technology purchased by Shelby Baptist Medical Center earned instant affection from hospital staff when it led to an early diagnosis right out of the box.

Touted in a hospital news release as the world’s most advanced CT technology, the system was tested on registered nurse Becky McDonald as part of a training exercise.

McDonald had seen heart disease in patients on a daily basis as the cardiology manager at Shelby Baptist, but she never suspected blockage in her own heart.

“They told me immediately it looked like something was there,” said McDonald, who volunteered to have her heart imaged by the new scanner, the first of its kind in Alabama.

A cardiac stent placed by Dr. Dale Elliott had McDonald back to work quickly.

“The best part about it all is they found it early enough that I didn’t have any damage to my heart muscle,” she said.

The system, distributed by Siemens Medical Solutions, uses X-rays from two sources to produce images at a higher speed and resolution than previous models.

While it can be used to image any part of the body, the technology really flexes its muscle when imaging the heart, according to radiologist Ben McDaniel Jr. It’s often fast enough to make detailed images without medication to slow the heartbeat, he said.

“Shelby went out and bought the latest and the greatest,” McDaniel said. “This is the premier scanner today.”

A full scan of the heart or brain can be done in seconds, helping doctors in a variety of diagnoses, from stroke prevention to the detection of small tumors.

“We’re picking up things that just five years ago, we would not have picked up,” McDaniel said.

Carrying a $1.85 million price tag, the new equipment was a welcome addition to Shelby’s growing arsenal of cardiac care, said cardiologist John McBrayer.

“The heart arteries are constantly moving,” McBrayer said. “You’ve got to be able to scan real fast to capture that motion.”

As exciting as the system may be, McBrayer said it’s not without a downside.

The health insurance industry is still adapting to the new technology, with some providers requiring pre-certification for the dual scan.

The process also still involves a small amount of radiation. CT images are created by injecting dye into the bloodstream