Reducing Tunnel Vision


For Kim Barnes, the idea of getting inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine was terrifying, something she thought she could never do. But when the computed tomography (CT) scan for her fibromyalgia came back inconclusive, her health-care team told her an MRI was necessary to confirm her diagnosis.

“When I heard ‘MRI’ I thought, there’s no way,” says Barnes. “I was panic-stricken. I just kept thinking, they’ll never get me in there.”

Because Barnes suffers from severe claustrophobia, the thought of having to lie motionless for over half an hour inside a tube smaller than a children’s play tunnel was unbearable. But when she was told by her rheumatologist that Women’s College Hospital had a machine that was not only wider, but also shorter (meaning her head would not be inside), getting the MRI scan suddenly did not seem like such an impossibility.

With the widest diameter opening, or bore, of any MRI machine in the Greater Toronto Area, and one of only a small number across Canada, the machine has enabled Women’s College Hospital to provide MRI scans to claustrophobic or obese patients who cannot fit in a traditional machine. With a diameter of 70 centimetres, the bore is approximately 15 per cent wider than traditional models. And the length is about half that of a standard machine. This means that if your legs need scanning, your head will be outside of the machine.

“We’ve had patients come from all over the province to be scanned in our MRI machine,” says Dr. Heidi Roberts, site director for medical imaging at Women’s College Hospital. “Some even from other provinces, because they could not fit or endure being in a traditional machine.”

Don’t be fooled by its size – the large bore does not compromise the quality of the scan. “The quality is identical to that of a smaller-bore machine,” says Holly Tutin, MRI technologist at Women’s College Hospital. What’s more, other large-bore machines have a stronger magnet than the 1.5 tesla machine at Women’s College, which Tutin explains can be a problem for some. “It poses safety concerns for patients with certain types of implants. These patients wouldn’t be able to go through an MRI machine with a stronger magnetic field, whereas they are safe to use ours.”

What really sold the experience for Barnes, however, were the personal touches she received. “The time, attention and privacy the technologists were able to provide at Women’s College because it’s a smaller hospital, made all the difference in the world,” she says. “They talked me through every single noise, detail and step along the way.”

For those needing an MRI but who have severe claustrophobia like Barnes, or are unable to fit in a traditional machine, Women’s College Hospital offers an alternative. “We hear a lot of people say they couldn’t have tolerated the scan anywhere else,” says Tutin. “With our large-bore machine, we are able to offer these patients some relief.”