When it comes to bringing a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner to the city, the diagnostic equipment's $3.5 million cost is just “short-term pain” that's necessary to bring “long-term gain,” according to Brenda Tessaro.
The Sudbury resident read with interest the recently-released peer review report examining issues at Health Sciences North.
Bringing a PET scanner to the hospital can actually assist the hospital with meeting the report's recommendations, including balancing its budget, Tessaro said.
To prove this, she shares statistics from a report on PET scans written by medical research consultant Susan Martinuk.
A 2010 study at the Vancouver General Hospital showed that PET scans changed intended treatment plans in 50 per cent of the cases.
Another study in the United States showed that after PET scans were performed, surgical biopsies were cancelled in 70 per cent of cases and further diagnostic procedures were cancelled in 77 per cent of cases.
“So basically, when we look at these kinds of statistics, it is a win-win for all parties concerned,” Tessaro said.
“Here we end up with faster diagnoses, more effective treatments, a reduction of redundant costs to the health-care system, and most importantly, lives are saved.”
She became interested in the issue of PET scans after reading numerous letters to the editor from the late Sam Bruno in local newspapers, including Northern Life. Bruno became an advocate for PET scans after receiving the procedure himself.
At the urging of Bruno and Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, the province agreed to publicly fund PET scans — at least on a limited basis — in 2009.
But Bruno then shifted his focus to bringing one of machines, which can be used to diagnose a variety of conditions, to the Northeast Cancer Centre in Greater Sudbury. He died of colorectal cancer in 2010, before his dream could come true.
“It is such an injustice that we, who live in such a diverse geographic region that covers such a wide area, do not have a PET scanner, yet we have a cancer treatment centre,” Tessaro said. “I don't suffer injustices lightly.”
Along with Bruno's family and other community members, Tessaro has been a driving force behind raising funds for the Northern Cancer Foundation's Sam Bruno PET Scanner Fund.
So far, $258,000 has been raised for the cause.
These are people's lives being lost, and for what?.
one of the organizers of the PET Scan Gala
The third annual Sam Bruno PET Gala, which raises money for the PET scanner fund, takes place starting at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Caruso Club.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath is the keynote speaker at the event. Other speakers include Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, who is also involved in the fight to bring a PET scanner to the region, and Sam Bruno's brother, Frank Bruno.
Tickets cost $80 each, or $640 for a table, and are available at a number of locations, including the Notre Dame Boys and the South End Bank of Montreal location. They can also be purchased by phoning Tessaro herself at 705-523-2605.
Even if the community can raise enough money for the PET scan, the province hasn't yet promised to fund the operational costs of the machine.
The hospital has also stated that it wants to purchase another MRI machine before it buys a PET scanner.
Health Minister Deb Matthews has said publicly many times that there's only a two-week wait time to receive a PET scan, Tessaro said.
But that doesn't mean there's equitable access to the procedure for those who live in this region, she said. It's difficult for those who are already “sick as a dog” to travel to southern Ontario to receive the test, Tessaro said.
To demonstrate the need for a locally-based PET scanner, she shares the stories of two residents who could have benefited from earlier access to the diagnostic procedure.
One man spent 21 days at Health Sciences North in the summer of 2011 as doctors attempted to diagnose a heart ailment.
After failing to diagnose his condition, he was sent by air ambulance to the Ottawa Heart Institute, where he received a PET scan. After receiving a diagnosis, he received a treatment plan, returned to Greater Sudbury, and was quickly discharged from hospital.
Tessaro estimates his treatment cost the system more than $30,000. If he'd had access to a PET scanner from the outset, his treatment would have cost the system less than $2,000, she said.
In another case, a 15-year-old boy went to the emergency room at Health Sciences North because he was sick, couldn't breathe, and was losing his hair. Doctors diagnosed him with asthma.
Some time later, the boy collapsed in the middle of the night after taking his asthma puffer, which was failing to help his condition.
After another trip to the emergency room, he was brought by air ambulance to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.
After receiving a PET scan, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. A large tumour was putting pressure on his aorta and lungs. A year later, at the age of 16, the boy is cancer-free.
“It's all these costs to the system that we don't really sit down and do the math with,” Tessaro said.
“At the end of it all, we're talking about people's lives. These are people's lives that are being lost, and for what? Without that, misdiagnosis happens. Doctors ... can only work with the tools they have on hand, right? They're doing the best they can with what they have.
“But when they have better tools for diagnosis, from there they have better courses of treatment that are going to be put into place, and then lives are not going to be lost, they're going to be saved.”