CT scanner proving effort worth it in Nelson

Andrea (right) and Paige Purcell after the little girl
Andrea (right) and Paige Purcell after the little girl's surgery in Vancouver.
— image credit: photo submitted

Andrea Purcell has seen the benefit that comes with having a CT scanner at Kootenay Lake Hospital. The Bonnington mother says the diagnostic imaging equipment saved her daughter’s life.

It’s been a year since a massive community fundraising effort culminated in the hospital purchasing the $1.3 million piece of equipment used to take two-dimensional images of the body’s interior.

More than 2,000 patients accessed Nelson’s CT Scanner last year, among them was three-year-old Paige Purcell who had been sick for a number of months and, in early September, started getting headache spells and vomiting.

The Purcells’ doctor ordered an emergency CT scan for the little girl, and two days later Paige became the youngest patient to get a CT scan at KLH.

Andrea watched from behind a barricade as her baby, who had been sedated for the procedure, was placed on the bed of the CT scanner and images were taken of inside the girl’s head.

The test revealed a massive tumour growing on her cerebellum, pushing on her brain stem. The doctors explained the situation to Andrea and her husband, but in her shock she didn’t hear much of what was said.

“I heard them say, there’s something there and that’s all I heard,” Andrea said.

Arrangements were made to have mother and daughter on a flight to Vancouver the next day, where doctors at BC Children’s Hospital would successfully remove the tumour.

“My daughter is going to have a normal, functioning healthy life, and will likely live and have no issues,” Purcell said, noting that early detection was key to this successful outcome.

“There’s no doubt in my mind her life was saved because we were able to get that CT scan,” Purcell said.

Currently there are only enough technicians at Kootenay Lake Hospital to run the CT scanner Monday to Friday during daytime hours. Though there’s no doubt having it available 24/7 would increase its benefit to our community, Interior Health has had difficulty recruiting more technicians.

According to Zeno Cescon, Interior Health’s regional director of diagnostic imaging services based in Kelowna, the budget is in place to pay technicians for emergency on-call service for evenings and weekends.

“We have the budget and we’re ready to go with it, but it’s still a staffing issue,” Cescon explained, noting there’s a shortage of technologists across all of Interior Health, not just in Nelson, which is attributed to the general shortage of skilled labour in the province.

Cescon couldn’t speculate when the hospital would be able to recruit the additional technicians. There would need to be at least three, preferably four, people trained to run the CT scanner to share the responsibility for on-call service. Currently the hospital only has two.

But Cescon said even just having the the machine available during daytime hours has brought wait times down dramatically for people getting elective (non-emergency) CT scans in the area.

In 2005, when Interior Health began investigating the idea of having a CT scanner at Kootenay Lake Hospital wait times were more than 20 weeks. Now they’re down to an average of five weeks wait, and emergency cases are dealt with much faster.

For comparison, at Kelowna General Hospital, the wait time for an elective CT scan is nine weeks.

As well, Cescon said antidotally it seems a higher proportion of the local population is accessing CT scans since the technology became available at the local hospital. In other words, the previous inconvenience of going out of town for a CT scan was deterring people from getting them.

“We know it’s been a tremendous benefit to the community in its first year of use,” Cescon said. “The technicians at Kootenay Lake Hospital are doing a great job providing the service.”

Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation recently received an update from Interior Heath on current CT scanner usage and progress towards making it a 24/7 service.

Hospital Foundation chair Pat Dooley, who herself has received CT scans at KLH in the past year, said the board of directors had really come to appreciate how important purchasing the equipment was.

“We’re really pleased our community stepped up to the plate to get it for our hospital and we’re getting more and more examples of how important it is,” Dooley said.

She was familiar with the Purcells’ story and many others like it, and believes it’s too valuable a piece of equipment to have sitting idle evenings and weekends.

“It needs to be available 24/7, to deal with emergency situations that happen in the evening,” Dooley said. “I’m confident Interior Health is working to achieve that goal and hopefully will get there over the course of the next year.”


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