First mobile MRIs head to war
by Brendon Nafziger
, DOTmed News Associate Editor | June 16, 2011
Inside a mobile Achieva
1.5-T unit. (Credit: Philips)
For injured soldiers serving in Afghanistan, the nearest MRI unit for U.S. military use is more than 3,000 miles away in a sprawling hospital complex in southwest Germany. But that's about to change.
A pair of mobile MRIs are headed for Afghanistan, and they're said to be the first MRI units shipped by the U.S. to a combat theater.
"[They're the] first MRI units to be sent into a combat environment," Sheila Gorman, a Navy spokeswoman, told DOTmed News by e-mail.
Navy Medical Logistics Command put in the order for two 1.5-T Achieva systems, made by Philips Healthcare, and intends for them to work at two trauma hospitals controlled by NATO forces.
Because the units are, in effect, shipping to a war zone, Philips said the units are housed in rugged, self-contained mobile coaches. The systems also had to be specially built so they could be airlifted to field hospitals and endure extremes of heat and the wear from harsh, sand-laden winds.
The primary studies for the units will be in neurological and spine imaging, with a focus on traumatic brain injuries, Philips said. TBI is known as the "signature injury" of America's 21st century wars, where the roadside bomb has been among the deadliest weapons.
Estimates vary widely, but a 2008 RAND Corporation report argued more than 320,000 soldiers have suffered this type of head injury, which can have long-term health and psychological effects.
One MRI unit will be sent to NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit, a trauma hospital in Kandahar, and another will be shipped to a Role 3 trauma hospital in Camp Bastion, Britain's main base in the country, Gorman said. Bastion is located in Afghanistan's Helmand province, the site of recent fighting against Taliban forces.
In a statement e-mailed to DOTmed News, Philips said it would provide service and project management during the warranty period, while Department of Defense personnel are trained on the two systems.
The call to buy the equipment came from the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of last year, and required a clever use of bureaucratic resources to settle contracting and logistical challenges, according to a report last month in the Frederick News Post.
Currently, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan needing MRI scans or other complicated medical procedures often go to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany, the United States' largest hospital outside the country.
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