Kid-friendly CT scans

New technology aims to reduce risks, make procedure fun

Dr. John Anastos demonstrates how this special computed tomography, or CT, scanner lets kids watch movies on ceiling screens during the procedure.

The last time Lake Zurich mom Cindy Law drove her 3-year-old son, Jack, to the hospital for a computed tomography, or CT scan, he screamed bloody murder all the way there.

He knew what he was getting into. Because Jack’s immune system doesn’t work like everyone else’s, he needs regular scans.

And Law knew Jack wouldn’t lie still and hold his breath—requirements for a successful scan. He would need sedation, which can be risky for kids.

But Jack and his mom were in for a pleasant surprise when they reached Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge on June 29.

Jack finished the scan and thought he had been to the movies.

In reality, Jack was the first patient ever to use a new CT scan suite designed to ease kids’ fears and reduce the need for sedatives and repeat exams.

"Those were bad days. These are good days," says Law of the hospital’s Ambient Experience Pediatric CT Suite, which opened in June.

The suite, designed by a team of nurses, radiologists and child psychologists, tries to make the scan fun. In the waiting room, kids use a miniature version of the real CT machine to "scan" toys and find out what’s inside their stomachs.

Inside the scanning room, kids choose from different films—each with its own characters, including aliens, animals or abstract shapes—that show kids how to hold their breath. They watch the same movie on ceiling screens during the scan.

Soft, colored lighting illuminates the room and subtle sounds, such as bubbles, play in the background. Usually, the scan is completed in 15 to 20 minutes—much more quickly than if a child needs a sedative, which adds six to eight hours of recovery time, says Dr. John Anastos, chairman of the radiology department. He believes the new scanner will reduce sedation and rescan rates by 20 to 30 percent.

"It was a common problem before," Anastos says. "We do several thousand CT scans a year. It’s something we’d deal with two to four times a day, trying to sedate these children."

Besides the added recovery time, sedation requires that patients not eat six hours before the scan. It can also be risky for a child, though serious complications are rare, says Dr. James Donaldson, a pediatric radiologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital. Risks include irritability, anxiety, oxygen deprivation and organ damage.

As for the Laws, they’re hooked on the new machine, which Advocate General says is the only one of its kind in the world.

Jack’s eyes light up when asked about the sharks and aliens, his favorite characters from the CT scan.

"It was a miracle," Law says.

Hannah Schroder


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