Your Impact: New “Real-time” X-ray Unit Provides Faster, Safer Surgeries with Proceeds from the Thun

Published Thursday, August 24, 2023

Your Impact: New “Real-time” X-ray Unit Provides Faster, Safer Surgeries with Proceeds from the Thun

by Graham Strong

Thanks to the Thunder Bay 50/50 draws, surgeons will receive a new X-ray machine for the operating rooms that will make surgeries faster and safer for patients.

X-rays have come a long way since Craig Willson, now a manager in the Diagnostic Imaging Department, started as a medical radiation technologist (MRT) at McKellar Hospital in the mid-1980s. Even back then, it was common for surgeons to ask for an X-ray part way through a procedure to ensure all was going well.

“It was a static image – one X-ray and then the time to develop it. If they needed another image, we had to take it and then develop that one, too. It was time consuming and made the OR time longer,” Willson said.

Not only did this slow down the surgery, it meant the patient had to be under anaesthetic longer.

Once digital X-rays came along though, everything changed. The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre purchased four C-arm X-ray units when the Hospital first opened in 2004. As the name suggests, these portable machines allow the X-ray to swing along an arc (the arm in the shape of a “C”) to help position the unit. They provide digital X-rays from any angle to help guide the surgeon in real time.

Today though, delays during surgery are for a completely different reason: the C-arms are past their end of life and need servicing often. If one breaks down during an operation, MRTs need to rush around to find another. Willson said that the four oldest C-arms need to be replaced in the next couple years before they break down for good.

“We want to ensure that the uptime is as close to 100 per cent as possible,” Willson said. “Patients shouldn’t have to wait because the C-arm failed. That means patients stay under anaesthetic longer, and we don’t want that.”

“So many more surgeries use guided imaging today,” said Ron Garon, Manager Perioperative Services at our Hospital. Those include trauma, orthopaedic, neurosurgery, urology, and vascular.

Spinal surgery is a great example of how vital C-arms are during operations. When surgeons insert screws during spinal fusions, there is little room for error.

“If a screw is inserted even a few millimetres off of the intended target, the consequences can be significant. Under direct vision, these complications are significantly reduced, so it’s safer for our patients. The C-arm provides this direct vision,” Garon said.

The new C-arm will also be a huge advance in technology. The system features a digital detector for crisper, cleaner images. It processes those images for archiving faster, which it must do before being used for the next surgery. (Due to the age of the current C-arm, this could take hours instead of minutes.) Further, the X-rays use a much lower dose of radiation, improving safety for both patients and healthcare staff in the room.

“Not only can surgeons see exactly where they are directly in real time, but those images are compatible with our Navigation systems, which can create a 3D image of the area,” Garon said.

There’s still time to buy your Thunder Bay 50/50 tickets for the August draw! Proceeds go directly towards purchasing equipment like this new and upgraded C-arm X-ray unit for our operating rooms. You can check out this month’s current jackpot and buy your tickets online at:


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