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Most Advanced CT Technology Available

When Vickie Buskirk underwent a new type of noninvasive heart test last July, she wanted to learn if her coronary artery stent was still open. The stent was surgically implanted in 2001 to treat coronary artery disease after she'd experienced mild chest pain.

When Vickie Buskirk underwent a new type of noninvasive heart test last July, she wanted to learn if her coronary artery stent was still open. The stent was surgically implanted in 2001 to treat coronary artery disease after she'd experienced mild chest pain.

"Last summer, when I underwent the test, I had no reason to believe anything was wrong and I was not experiencing any symptoms. But I wanted to take the unique opportunity to learn more, both for myself and for the patients I care for. I wanted to be able to tell them what this test was like, knowing it might one day be part of their heart care," says Vickie, a physician's assistant at MeritCare Heart Center. Vickie was among 50 MeritCare employees who participated in the cardiac implementation phase of a powerful new 64-slice computer tomography (CT) scanner.

Vickie was pleased to learn the stent was fine, but an unexpected finding emerged. The test, called a cardiac CT angiogram (cardiac CTA), revealed two areas of blockage in her coronary arteries. "It was a real surprise because I had absolutely no symptoms. We had no idea I had these blockages," says Vickie. "Very likely the next thing that would have happened would have been a heart attack." At age 58, with a history of coronary artery disease and diabetes, Vickie knows she's at increased risk. Within a week of the test, she underwent further evaluation and treatment at MeritCare Heart Center, including successful coronary angioplasty to open the blocked areas and the insertion of two more stents to keep the arteries open. She also participated in MeritCare's cardiac rehab program.

Available 24/7 for multiple purposes
The advanced capabilities of the new 64-slice CT scanner made a significant difference for Vickie, but the scanner has made a difference for many other patients, too, including patients with complicated fractures, pulmonary emboli, cerebral aneurysms, kidney stones, appendicitis, abdominal pain and more. The most advanced CT technology available today, the scanner has been in place at MeritCare since April 2006.

Available 24/7 for emergency and non-emergency needs, the 64-slice CT scanner has proven an excellent tool in assessing and diagnosing many issues, especially those that are complex. "A key reason why this scanner is so impressive is it enables the full three-dimensional view of the area in question rather than just a single plane," says Dr. Richard Marsden, board-certified radiologist and executive physician partner of MeritCare Imaging Services. "This in-depth look makes a significant difference, both in diagnosing the problem and in planning the treatment." An orthopaedic surgeon, for example, knows the exact configuration of a complicated fracture, including the location of bone fragments, prior to taking the patient in the operating room. For the patient, this level of information contributes to the best possible outcome.

In addition to greater depth of information, the new scanner offers increased speed, which patients appreciate. "The brevity of these exams means less time in an enclosed space for patients and less time trying to stay still," says Dr. Marsden. "Even a head-to-toe scan, we're able to perform in a matter of seconds. And we get highly accurate results."

"Quick, simple and not at all painful"
Vickie experienced the 64-slice CT scanner in its newest role - for heart studies.
"I was just amazed at the amount of information this test could reveal, but even more, I was amazed at how easy it was and how little time it took," she says. "Including prep time, you're in and out in around an hour. You're awake and alert the entire time, and when you're done, you can continue on with your day. You can go back to work, you can drive, you can go back to your regular activities. Cardiac CTA was wonderful - quick, simple and not at all painful."

For the patient, the steps involved in undergoing a cardiac CTA include taking medication shortly before the scan to safely slow the heart rate down to approximately 60 beats per minute. This enables a better view of the resting heart during the scan. Nurses closely monitor blood pressure, oxygen levels and heart rate throughout the entire process. They also insert an IV into the arm so fluids and a contrast dye can be infused to highlight the coronary arteries during the scan. For the actual scan, the patient lies on a table, which slowly moves through the center of the scanning machine - a large donut-like structure in the middle of a room. In minutes, the scanner painlessly captures hundreds of highly specialized images. With the help of sophisticated computer programs, the detailed, high-resolution images can be immediately reviewed and studied by the radiologist and cardiologist.

"The radiology technologist told me exactly what would happen every step of the way, even the sound the machine would make during the scan. I was very comfortable throughout," says Vickie. "Really the only surprise was when I got the results. No one expected two blockages would be found, but my family and I were just so grateful the problem was identified early." Vickie's family includes husband, Larry, three grown children and two grandchildren.

For Vickie, the cardiac CTA results inspired a renewed interest in taking care of herself and getting the word out to other women. "I'm more determined than ever to improve my heart health, including keeping my diabetes well managed, eating three healthy meals a day rather than eating on the run, getting exercising on a regular basis, and keeping stress in check through meditation and yoga," says Vickie. "As women, we so often tend to other people's health problems before we take care of our own. But we have to remember heart disease is the number-one single killer of women over the age of 25. That's a strong reminder that we need to do everything we can to take care of ourselves."

For more information about MeritCare's cardiac CTA, please call (701) 234-5714 or go to (keywords: 64-slice scanner).