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Joe DeLuca, Deseret News
A giant MRI on overhead rails gives neurosurgeons an unprecedented look into the brain while they are operating on a patient. In the past, MRIs had to be taken after the surgery was complete, and if tumor tissue was still present, the patient would have to undergo another surgery. There are only 20 IMRIS in the world, and the one at the Huntsman Cancer Institute is the only one in the Intermountain West. Photo taken Friday Sept. 9, 2011, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — A giant MRI scanner on overhead rails is giving neurosurgeons an unprecedented glimpse into the brain while they are in the operating room.

Jean Hatch, of Vernal, became only the second patient to go through this new operating procedure at the Huntsman Cancer Institute's hospital.

In his case, the tumor was lodged between the two hemispheres of the brain. Neurosurgeon Randy Jensen prepared as usual to remove the tumor, but this time he did something very different in the operating room. 

Instead of removing what he could, then taking an MRI scan in the days that follow to see what was left behind, Jensen used a 10-ton MRI suspended on specially designed overhead rails during the surgery.

The machine moved from an adjoining room directly into the operating room to give the surgical team a view of what's left behind before the surgery ends. This way, Hatch only has to go through the surgery once.

"It's a chance to check our work," Jensen said, "and if there's any remaining tumor, the MRI scans can be put into our own navigation system while we go back to work to take out any remnants. That's something we normally would have found out the day after surgery."

With the incision still open, Jean stayed on the operating table while the MRI took multiple detailed pictures. 

Since the MRI moves in and out of an active operating room, all medical surgical instruments and equipment had to be moved out of the way of the magnet.

"All the instruments in the room have to be counted before and after we're done working, because before the MRI can come into the room there can be no metal objects within a certain radius around the operating room table," Jensen said.

In an adjoining control room, Jensen and his colleagues saw immediately what they needed to know. For Hatch's surgery and the removal of his walnut sized tumor, the MRI scans were good news. "Got it. We're done," Jensen exclaimed following the surgery.

And "done" is the word for Hatch as well. While he may need chemotherapy or radiation therapy as backup, what could have been multiple surgeries now ends up as one.

Huntsman's MRI on rails is currently one of only 20 in the world and is the only one in the Intermountain West.

E-mail: eyeates@desnews.com