McMaster University

McMaster University

McMaster Children's Hospital receives gift of new MRI

Area philanthropists raise $1 million to update equipment for Mac Kids

February 06, 2010
Joanna Frketich
The Hamilton Spectator

The old and breaking-down MRI at McMaster Children's Hospital couldn't produce detailed enough images for surgeons to get the tumour at the centre of Liam McGibbon's brain.

Getting it out required a detailed road map of the brain clearly showing every vein and motor fibre so the surgeons would know precisely how to get to the tumour without causing any damage to the otherwise healthy and active eight-year-old Milton boy.

Being off by even the tiniest bit could cause damage, so the surgeons couldn't rely on McMaster's technology, bought in 2001.

The machine is three years past the replacement date set by radiology associations. But there's no money in the budget to replace it.

That's why Hamilton philanthropist Teresa Cascioli, George McCarter, president of Pearson Dunn Insurance, and Fred Losani, vice-president and CEO of Losani Homes, stepped in.

They raised $1 million in a matter of months to buy the children's hospital a new machine.

"I wouldn't be here today with a dime to donate if it hadn't been for the wonderful drinkers of Ontario," said Cascioli, former CEO of Lakeport Brewing who collected $43 million when the Hamilton brewery was bought by Labatt. Cascioli's namesake foundation donated $450,000 of the funds.

"I just want to thank Labatt Breweries for acquiring my business so I can do this."

It arrived too late for Liam, who had to go elsewhere for the MRI that saved his life. But it will make a big difference for kids like him from now on.

"Having this new MRI is going to be such a huge bonus," said Dr. Sheila Singh, pediatric neurosurgeon at the children's hospital. "The quality of the images will really be very, very good. The resolution will be higher such that we'll be able to see tiny little things that are important to us in surgery."

Singh is Liam's surgeon. She had to go to St. Joseph's Healthcare to get the hundreds of images needed to create a 3D map of his brain -- what Singh calls her GPS during surgery.

It doesn't sound like a big deal to go to a hospital mere blocks away for an MRI, but for kids it's a huge obstacle.

The children's hospital is the only one in the city with special techniques to help kids stay still and calm in the noisy and claustrophobic machine. The hospital has goggles that play movies and it sedates kids when necessary. Without that, some kids can't stay still long enough to get the test.

"A lot of little kids can't do that," said Singh. "A lot of kids who are one or two with brain tumours don't have the option to go (elsewhere) for better images. That's why it's really crucial we have that technology in-house at McMaster."

Singh said it took a lot of convincing to get St. Joseph's to do the 90-minute MRI on an eight-year-old.

"I had to beg and plead and cajole people," she said. "I promised them that Liam was very well behaved and I promised he could lie still and that he was better behaved than most eight-year-olds."

Liam, who is now nine, admits it wasn't easy.

"It felt kind of weird," he said. "I usually watch a movie. There I could just look around."

His dad Jason McGibbon was fighting tears when he tried to express his gratitude yesterday to the donors for bringing the technology to McMaster and making it easier for families in the future.

"We'd be lying to say that wasn't the scariest and darkest time that as a family we've ever gone through," he said.

Liam's tumour was found by a stroke of luck. He'd gone for a CAT scan because of migraine headaches that turned out to be unrelated to the tumour. Normally the type of tumour he had isn't found until it causes brain damage.

His mother went to the follow-up appointment with the pediatrician alone expecting to be told how to treat the headaches.

"He asked Liam to go out into the waiting room and my stomach dropped because I knew something was really not right for him not to want to talk in front of Liam," said his mom Kimberley McGibbon.

"He was telling me all these things and I was trying to concentrate because I knew it was really important and that I needed to really focus but I couldn't even breathe. It's the most devastating feeling."

At first the family was told it was going to be a long wait to get into Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The McGibbons starting enquiring at McMaster and got in to see Singh in less than a week.

Four neurosurgeons, including one from Sick Kids, took part in two operations -- each over six hours long -- one week apart.

With the guidance of the MRI done at St. Joseph's, they got all of the non-cancerous tumour and Liam is now cured.

"A surgeon is only as good as their tools," said Singh. "(It's) state-of -the-art technology that will allow us to do things that previously we may have had to send elsewhere. We don't have to send anybody anywhere anymore because now we'll be able to do everything here."

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