For the past eight years, Valerie Williams has taken her 9-year-old niece, Jerrita Williams, for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville to monitor the girl’s brain tumor.
MRIs provide doctors with detailed images of soft tissue, bones, organs and other internal structures from a variety of angles. But they can cause anxiety for some patients since it typically involves spending time in an unfamiliar and very loud confined space.
Depending on her symptoms, such as seizure activity, MRIs may be ordered for Jerrita quite often, said Valerie, who has custody of her niece. In fact, she had four MRIs within a five-month span alone earlier this year.
So Valerie and Jerrita were ecstatic when Kosair officials unveiled a new state-of-the-art MRI system in July within its updated and expanded imaging department. It is the result of $10.2 million in initial renovations with more to follow in 2009.
The department now includes two MRI suites housing two new MRI scanners, along with 12 sedation rooms and customized special touches to help put their young patients more at ease.
“They are totally different,” Valerie said of the new MRI unit compared to its predecessor. “… She was more comfortable – and so was I.”
Valerie said the equipment was noticeably newer, and the imaging department’s surroundings more spacious and attractive.
That’s not all – instead of listening to the monotonous hums and loud clangs of the MRI unit, now Jerrita is able to block that out with a selection of pleasant audio delivered via headphones. On a recent visit she picked out her favorite tunes from the TV show “Hannah Montana.”
Another way to relax and soothe children while the testing takes place is with an ambient visual experience accompanying the MRI process that allows a colorful, themed environment of choice to be displayed on the wall. For her simulated surroundings, Jerrita selected an underwater scene.
Terese Sirles, assistant nurse manager of sedation services at Kosair Children’s Hospital, said younger children or those new to the MRI procedure can have the mystery removed – further lowering anxiety – beforehand when they visit a pleasant learning room in the department to find out about what they will soon experience.
It features a miniature replica of an MRI unit alongside stuffed animals that the children can place in the MRI for faux scans. Meanwhile, a cartoon on a large television screen nearby explains in reassuring, kid-friendly terms about the MRI process and purpose. It might turn out that the scan finds a goldfish in the tummy of a toy elephant.
“It’s so animated, and it’s so hands-on,” Sirles said.
Real-life MRIs are used diagnostically for a variety of conditions, she said, from autism, first-time seizures and seizure disorders to diagnostics for different cancers and assessing the spine for scoliosis.
Staff members were trained to use the new MRI equipment on site by personnel representing its manufacturer, Philips, Sirles said. Nursing staff members also undergo specific MRI training for safety and procedural matters such as discerning what items can and cannot be brought into the MRI area, she said.
And results are available faster than with the previous units, Sirles said, increasing efficiency. The units also feature digital records storage capabilities, and patients can receive copies of their MRI records on DVD to keep for their family physicians’ reference.
In all, the changes increased the size of the department from 1,100 s.f. to 11,000 s.f., Sirles said.
The project tripled the number of sedation rooms, shortening what was once a seven-week waiting list down to two, said Norton Healthcare Chief Development Officer Lynnie Meyer.
The state’s only freestanding children’s hospital, Kosair Children’s Hospital is a part of Norton Healthcare and treats 109,000 children a year, Meyer said.
About $7.5 million in funds for Phase I of imaging department renovations came from individual and corporate donors to the Children’s Hospital Foundation, Norton Healthcare employees and other foundations, Norton Healthcare records show. Another $3 million was contributed by Kosair Charities.
Phase II will include a $1.5 million interventional radiology suite that is now in the fundraising stage, Meyer added, and will hopefully be constructed next year. Individuals or businesses can learn more about how to contribute at www.helpkosairchildrenshospital.com.
For now, Kosair staff and patients are still reveling in the most recent changes.
“It’s night and day, really, in terms of access, quality and availability,” Meyer said of the new setup. “You wouldn’t find a higher-level capability anywhere in the country.”
Williams said she’s impressed with the renovations, but added that it’s not only technology that reassures her of the care there. She said it’s also the Kosair Children’s Hospital employees who help them feel they’re in capable, caring hands every step of the way.
“The staff is wonderful,” she said. “They are very family friendly.”