Clinic brings upright MRI to Kamloops

When Carol Brain from Prince George needed to get checked out for extreme pain, she was advised to go for an MRI so she could undergo immediate surgery.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a diagnostic tool used to detect problems or abnormalities in the body without surgery.

Brain was faced with a year-long waitlist and the pain was too much to bear.

“I was getting worse every week, and I don’t like a lot of painkillers,” she explained. She was also scheduled to work at the Olympics, which she described as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

When getting an MRI, positioning is important in finding the cause of physical pain, said Dr. Richard Brownlee, a neurosurgeon in Kamloops.
“Most people that get MRIs are looking for problems that are causing pain, and most of the time, people’s pain goes away when you lay down. That’s how you get imaged in all the other standard machines.”

Another option is available with an upright MRI.

While the procedure is the same, with an upright MRI, a patient can be imaged in other positions other than lying down.

This is especially helpful in spine-related conditions. “It allows you to find instabilities that show up when you’re weight bearing but don’t necessarily show up when you’re lying down,” said Brownlee.

In Brain’s case, the pain intensified while lying down. Using the upright MRI, they were able to image her in a more comfortable position while still getting the information needed for her surgery.

The country’s only upright MRI is located in Kamloops at the Welcome Back MRI and Pain Management Centre.

Brownlee and two colleagues, Dr. Michael Kowbel, an anesthetist, and Michael Koehn, a psychologist, founded the centre in January 2009.

The clinic specializes in neurosurgery, pain management, sports medicine/musculoskeletal, psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, kinesiology, chiropractic and nutritional care.
It offers a unique approach. Patients are assessed and treated by a team of medical practitioners.

“They see a physician, a biomechanical provider, which is either a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, or a massage therapist, and a psychologist. You have a minimum of three people that assess you,” Brownlee explained. Complicated cases can have as many as eight health practitioners doing the assessment.

Patients who need immediate attention can have their MRI scheduled quickly at the clinic.

“At the Royal Inland Hospital, the wait right now is 10 months and at our clinic they can probably get in within a week,” said Brownlee.

However, there’s a price tag that goes with the service. Most joint imaging is priced at $900 and spine imaging is $1,300.

Brownlee said they get an average of 15 patients a week.

“I think there’s a lot of people (in the hospital) that don’t want to wait 10 months for an MRI. Those are the majority of people that come here.”
For Brain, it was worth the price. “If I hadn’t had it in November 2009, I wouldn’t have been able to work at the Olympics.”

“With the upright MRI, there’s still a lot of things that you can do with it (that) haven’t been done—it’s such new technology,” said Brownlee.

“Having it in Kamloops is a real bonus for our community. It’s attracting a lot of people and potentially will provide a lot of information that could advance that technology.”

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