Volume 4 | Issue 2
Summer 2012

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A good time to be ‘plugged in’

By Hope Baptiste ’87


Wyatt Tiffany, 11, gives a sneak peek of his perspective when using the CinemaVison MRI goggles during an MRI scan.

All photos by Dan Sears

If you’ve ever had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, then you’re familiar with the confined, often claustrophobic feeling of being flat on your back in a high-tech tube with all kinds of banging and noise and echoes going on around you.

And you’re not supposed to move, sometimes for hours, depending on the type of study being performed. That’s a tall order for any adult; imagine how hard that is for a child, especially a child whose treatment plan calls for numerous scans over the course of time.

To make it easier on the patients and avoid repeated scans (which are both costly and time consuming) because of movement, interruption or anxiety, physicians have employed various sedation techniques for both children and adults. And they work very well.

But as with any medication, there is always risk of side effects or patient intolerance, not to mention the additional time required both before the test to achieve the optimal result and after for the sedative to wear off. Sedation is even more challenging for patients with intricate drug therapies such as those often associated with oncology.

“Of course, it would be ideal if sedation wasn’t necessary, but in some cases, especially with kids, you simply cannot achieve a quality scan without it,” said Dr. Tina Willis, who chairs the Pediatric Sedation Committee, part of UNC’s Pediatric Sedation Excellence program charged with making sedation as effective and safe as possible at UNC Hospitals.

Unfortunately, few alternatives existed aside from piped-in music and calming ceiling art—until now.

By the numbers

In 2011, UNC’s MRI Center performed:

2,647 pediatric MRI scans

1,105 pediatric MRI scans with sedation

414 pediatric MRI scans involving 5- to 8–year-olds (247 with sedation)

Thanks to a grant from UNC Dance Marathon, UNC Hospitals has purchased and deployed a state-of-the-art CinemaVision audio/video integration system that is compatible with MRI scanning equipment. Not only do the “MRI Goggles” allow patients to listen to their favorite music during scans, they can also watch a video or T.V. show. It also supports two-way voice communication so the technicians can communicate with their patients and vice versa.

“It’s really an impressive and extremely useful tool for us not only in reducing the need for sedation to obtain optimal scans in the care of our patients, but also in addressing the anxiety and discomfort that can go along with it,” Willis said. “We are extremely grateful to Dance Marathon for enabling the hospital to purchase this system. N.C. Children’s Hospital is committed to the highest quality of care for our patients, and this is just another way of allowing us to deliver that.”

For Wyatt Tiffany, 11, of Gibsonville, N.C., the “Goggles” helped him get through a three-hour scan in July following surgical removal of a brain tumor. “It was really neat to be able to chill and watch a movie for three hours instead of being in there and wondering how much longer it was going to be, especially if you’re trying to be still,” Wyatt said. “It makes the time go by so much faster and I almost forgot where I was.”

Leah Winter, Wyatt’s mother, said he even fell asleep. “We had just moved here from the West Coast and literally the day we arrived Wyatt had a seizure and we ended up being rushed to UNC,” she said. “After two surgeries and a ton of testing, it was great to have a fun, non-medical distraction for him during some of this. Everyone at the children’s hospital has been amazing and Wyatt got outstanding care, and this is just part of that care—a little bit of comfort in a trying situation.”

If there is a downside to the Goggles, it is that they are not mobile and, therefore, are integrated into the MRI scanner itself. That makes the one unit equipped with the Goggles very popular. The nurses said it is by far the most requested and most-used unit now, especially for kids. The sedation team and the MRI unit would love to have another, but its $50,000 price tag presents a challenge.

“Everyone at the children’s hospital has been amazing and Wyatt got outstanding care, and this is just part of that care—a little bit of comfort in a trying situation.”

» Leah Winter

This underscores the major impact the funding from the UNC Dance Marathon is having. The brainchild of a student, the UNC Dance Marathon aims to “unite the University, community and state in fostering emotional and financial support that improves the quality of life for the patients and families of N.C. Children’s Hospital.”

The first marathon was held in 1999 with about 75 dancers and raised about $40,000 to benefit the N.C. Children’s Hospital. Today, the event involves about 2,000 students each year and dozens of community businesses. Over the years, the event has raised more than $3.3 million to support the work of N.C. Children’s Hospital.

In 2011, nearly $500,000 was raised and the funds are supporting 12 different projects at the Children’s Hospital, including the Pediatric Sedation Excellence program responsible for procuring the Goggles.

Winter said she felt it was more than just coincidence when she learned the source of the support for the Goggles. “I’d always known about the UNC Dance Marathon and had a good friend who was involved for many years with it,” she said. “Now, to have my family directly benefit from those efforts is really moving, and certainly makes us want to support their work as well.”

For Wyatt, who will continue having MRIs in follow-up to his treatment, is glad to have something else to keep him busy. And speaking of busy, just after “Carolina Connections” wrapped up its photos with Wyatt and his mom, a 6-year-old girl was waiting for the chance to use the Goggles during her scan.

What was she doing while she waited? Choosing the video she wanted to watch!