Gary F. Johnston is working hard to gather support for an MRI in Salmon Arm. (Black Press file photo)

Gary F. Johnston is working hard to gather support for an MRI in Salmon Arm. (Black Press file photo)

MRI wanted for Salmon Arm

Resident urges council to support request, points to many advantages

What’s the value of a life?

That’s a question central to a project that Gary Johnston, a concerned citizen, has taken on.

Johnston came to city council Tuesday, Feb. 13 to voice his wish for Salmon Arm to acquire an MRI – magnetic resonance imaging – machine.

“I feel as a taxpayer and citizen of Salmon Arm it’s an initiative that has to be put forward,” he said, predicting that if people know what the machine’s capable of, they’ll support one.

“It can provide very early detection of many conditions so treatment can be better quality.”

Johnston began researching MRIs after he heard that Vernon and Penticton are getting them.

At the heart of it is a strong magnet, he said, and showed council a video with more information.

An MRI scan produces pictures on the inside of a person’s body, and is the best technique for finding anomalies in both soft and hard tissue, he said. And while X-rays and CT scans use radiation, an MRI doesn’t.

“It outworks a CT scan by a long ways.”

The list Johnston provided of uses for MRIs included: detecting congenital heart defects in newborns; identifying complications of infectious diseases, such as those associated with Lyme disease or AIDS; and assessing blood vessels in the brain for stroke and other abnormalities.

He added that he has researched costs, talked to a lot of hospitals, and every day is learning something new. He’s found five companies that provide MRIs, at a variety of prices.

“I could tell you a price that could scare you, or one that you would say, okay.”

Related link: Salmon Arm parents fear MRI wait will harm baby

Coun. Chad Eliason said he may be the bearer of bad news because he and Coun. Kevin Flynn sit on the North Okanagan Regional Hospital District board, which makes decisions on capital projects.

“Earlier this year the group decided that the priority for an MRI would be Vernon because of its facilities and the size of the hospital. It was a tough decision.”

Eliason said cost and the retrofit were deciding factors.

“In order to facilitate the implementation of an MRI, you have to renovate substantially,” he said, explaining that the machine must be contained in a vault-like structure made of thick cement so nothing can interfere with the machine.

“While I appreciate your efforts, the decision of the board was to support one in Vernon.”

Flynn reinforced Eliason’s comments, noting he can’t argue with wanting to have an MRI in Salmon Arm given that his son has had to have numerous MRIs due to congenital heart disease.

He said they worked hard to get an MRI close to Salmon Arm, and he thinks a 45-minute trip is pretty good.

But he encouraged Johnston, stating he thinks that 10 years from now, Salmon Arm will have its own.

“I think your initiative is a good one,” Flynn said, suggesting Johnston start with the local hospital foundation and other local players.

Johnston said he has spoken to a number of local parties.

Following the meeting, Johnston said he’s not discouraged as it’s not an overnight issue.

He pointed out that last year there were 22,000 MRIs in B.C., less than all those in Toronto in the same period.

And he expects long wait lists will continue if Vernon and Salmon Arm area residents are all trying to access an MRI in Vernon.

“This issue is not just my issue, this is the issue for the whole area, and we’re a very large area here.”


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