Open Upright Imaging: A Rare Experience in Renton

In a week, CDI technologist Leslie Young takes dozens of people through MRI procedures. For some, the confined space inside the MR tunnel can make a doctor-ordered procedure impossible to complete. Panic can bring a traditional MR scan to a halt. “Hands on the side of the machine, get me out of here, crying,”that’s the point Leslie says the imaging stops and she starts talking to her patients about the Open Upright MRI.

Where’s the Closest Open Upright MRI?

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, Open Upright scanners aren’t easy to find. Patients travel thousands of miles to the Seattle area, from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska, to get an Open Upright scan at CDI’s Renton center. “The Upright is best for patients who are claustrophobic and they may have tried a traditional open magnet, where things are normally over their face and they’re not able to lay down,” explains CDI’s Renton center manager Desiree Rocovich.  “We can get patients through this, usually without sedation.”

The Open Upright MRI Experience

The seat of the Open Upright MRI is about the width of an airplane seat. There’s not a lot of wiggle room. But if you’re worried about something in front of your face, the Open Upright scanner offers an open view of the room. “I’ve heard from patients before, ‘Can I get out if I need to?’ Absolutely. You can walk right out of it. There’s nothing that holds them down,” says Leslie. Getting images from an Open Upright scan may take a little longer than a traditional MRI, but because of the open architecture, patients can watch TV or listen to music to help the time pass.

Positional Scanning for Pain

Though the Open Upright MRI wasn’t designed for claustrophobic patients, they are often the people seeking it out. The Upright was actually designed by a company called FONAR for positional imaging. Technologists can get images from patients who are standing, sitting, bending or lying down. This lets radiologist see things that could be missed in a traditional lie-down scanner.

CDI radiologist Ranjeet Singh, M.D. specializes in spine imaging for people with musculoskeletal disorders. He spends his days analyzing spines, looking at discs and joints and nerves. “One of the problems of a conventional MRI is the patients are lying on their back in a recumbent position,” Singh explains. “Oftentimes the patient’s pain is when they’re standing or sitting, but if they’re lying on their back, they may not be in pain.” The Open Upright MRI gives him the unique ability to image the patient in the position where they are experiencing the pain.

Image Quality and Magnet Strength

Those who rely on the Open Upright MRI to take a look inside bodies say the only downside is the magnet. The strength of a magnetic field is measured in tesla after the scientist Nikola Tesla. A traditional MR scanner has the strongest MRI magnet available, a 1.5 to 3.0 tesla magnet. The Open Upright MRI has a 0.6 tesla magnet. When it comes to getting images, Leslie says the advantages of the Open Upright scanner far outweigh the weaker magnet. “If you’re going to do an Upright at a 0.6 or nothing at all because they’re super claustrophobic, then all of a sudden that 0.6 is gorgeous because it’s that or nothing.”

To compensate for the weaker magnet, procedures can take longer in an Open Upright MRI. A lumbar spine scan might take 20 minutes with a traditional MRI. To get images with comparable clarity and quality, the same scan could take 40-45 minutes in an Open Upright scanner.

An Open Upright Patient’s Perspective

Even though it was designed for positional imaging, the Open Upright scanner may be best for patients who are claustrophobic and have tried to get a traditional MRI but failed. That’s what happened to Norma Branson Campbell. After getting rear-ended on Interstate 5, her doctor sent her for a traditional scan. Norma likened the experience to being smothered. Leslie helped Norma through each step of her Open Upright MRI. “She was wonderful and she was very caring and empathetic,” Norma said of her technologist. “She understands that I was claustrophobic and she did everything possible to make me feel comfortable.” With a quick hug for Leslie, Norma left CDI with her herniated disc images in hand and a sense of accomplishment.