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CT Scanner sees hearts in 64 slices
Using latest machine, Southern Regional offers screenings

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The image on the screen glows in the darkened room at Southern Regional Medical Center.

It's the shape of a mango. It's the color of liver -- a sort of blood-infused brown -- with a network of dark red lines wrapped around it.

And it's beating.

Holly Farrow, dressed in scrubs, leans into the screen, her right hand on the computer mouse. She clicks the mouse and moves her wrist and the pumping heart of an adult male rotates 360 degrees. The image shows every artery, every calcium deposit and every sign of an impending cardiac problem.

"This," says Donna Waggoner, with Southern Regional Medical Center's Heart and Vascular Care Center, "is what our physicians are looking at."

Checking for blockages, hardening arteries, narrowing arteries and coronary problems used to require an invasive procedure.

"We'd stick a catheter in your groin," Waggoner says, "and snake it up to your heart, and then we'd shoot dye down your arteries."

Today, the hospital has a GE LightSpeed, a 64-slice CT scanner with a price tag of about $1 million, which scans a heart in "about a minute and a half," Farrow says, giving doctors detailed images to work with.

"All the other hospitals in the Southern Crescent have older generation scanners," said Bill Applegate, Southern Regional marketing director. "This is the fourth or the fifth -- the latest -- generation of scanner. GE makes it, and they're one of the top companies for this kind of work. It does 64 slices, at once. Thinner slices, more slices, means more information and it means it's a quicker process and there's less radiation."

GE markets the CT scanner with language about "volume coverage," not slices, but hospital officials explain the CT scanner by talking about a loaf of bread and the number of slices. However the CT scanner scans, though, the result is very detailed images coming out of a quick and painless procedure.

This summer, Southern Regional's been offering a $135 risk assessment screening, on the $1 million machine. Waggoner says the calcium scoring and lipid profile can spot heart attacks and coronary trouble a decade before they happen.

"We do this test and we identify your risk of a potential cardiac event in the next 10 years," she says.

The check -- which isn't covered by insurance companies -- is like preventive maintenance for your heart. It's especially important, hospital officials say, for people who smoke, have diabetes, are overweight, or are getting older.

Waggoner says it's even important, though, for people who feel fine. One man in his early 50s recently came in, she says, and he was strong and healthy and active -- but found out with a CT scan that his arteries are 85 percent blocked.

"With this test," she says, you'll have your risk factors and your risk assessment and you'll be able to make some life-changing decisions."

For more information about the procedure, call (770) 991-8144.