Brigham Young University cornerback Tony Crutchfield played football Saturday, partly because of state-of-the-art diagnostic image equipment at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

Head football trainer George Curtis said Crutchfield's knee was injured early in the season and it was feared he may have torn ligaments. Through magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, the injury was determined to be small fiber tears, not serious enough to take him out of play.Curtis said he is monitoring Crutchfield's knee with the MRI. The machine also was used to determine that outside linebacker Jared Leavitt had a herniated disk in his neck requiring surgery. MRI found a herniated disk in tight end Fotu Katoa's back.

The MRI is a quantum leap beyond the CAT scan, said Dr. Wendell A. Gibby, a neural radiology specialist who came to the hospital 2 1/2 years ago when the MRI was installed.

The MRI makes computer-generated images of any part of the body, at any layer, while the CAT scan photographs in only one plane, said Gibby.

"The MRI is especially useful for the brain, spinal column and joints," Gibby said. "It is also being utilized for evaluation of the heart, the abdomen and the pelvis."

However, the CAT scan is preferable in some instances.

For example, a patient who cannot hold still could not benefit as much from the MRI because movement distorts the image. A CAT scan is less time-consuming than the MRI, so it is still preferable for most medical emergencies. And patients with pacemakers can't be screened by the MRI because the strong magnetic field interferes with electrical currents.

The MRI at the medical center is moving toward almost continuous use, generally used 20 hours or more a day.

The medical center has begun construction on another series of rooms to house another MRI, although the money for the MRI itself has not been appropriated.

Utah Valley is the only medical center in Utah south of Salt Lake City with a permanent MRI.

Curtis said he would be very pleased if Utah Valley Medical Center acquires another MRI. He said he had to go in at 5 a.m. for an exam for himself and one of BYU's football players was scheduled for a midnight appointment.

The MRI system at the medical center costs over $2 million and requires a room shielded with 80 tons of plate steel to block radio waves and magnetic fields. MRI technicians operate the system and monitor computer generated images of the insides of patients from an adjoining room.

There is another room to house computers and monitoring equipment. The computers and equipment are the size of 10 large refrigerators. Another room has tanks of liquid helium. "In order to achieve the high magnetic field required, a super conducting magnet is utilized. Super conduction requires cooling with liquid helium." said Gibby. The magnetic field created is 250,000 times the magnetic pull of Earth.

The MRI is about twice as expensive as a CAT scan, costing about $800 for an interpreted examination. If the MRI is needed only for a joint, such as the knee, the cost is about $500.

It can be very cost-effective, said Gibby. The detailed picture can replace exploratory surgery and make surgery more precise by clearly showing the extent and nature of disease or injuries.

MRI is less risky than X-ray because there is no ionizing radiation. Gibby explained the MRI stimulates the nuclei of atoms within the body with radio waves. The emitted energy, which is used to create a computer-generated image, is the body's own emission.

"MRI is a remarkable advance of medicine, which is being effectively applied in our community to save lives," said Gibby.