MRI scans on children are usually tough because naturally, children don't like to stay still. These scans make it necessary for kids to remain in one place for a long period of time. However, a new technique will help children as young as the age of 5 to have MRIs without being put to sleep.
The children involved the intervention were sickle cell disease patients. They often have to have MRIs performed to analyze their livers and brains to make sure they do not have complications in terms of their medication or disease. The problem here is that sickle cell disease makes anesthesia unsafe for some patients, and therefore, doctors try to use other methods when MRIs are required.
The study, which involved 71 sickle cell disease patients aged between 5 and 12, determined that the intervention given by experts to the children was extremely effective. The patients were 8 times more likely to make it through the entire scan without undergoing anesthesia than those who were not involved in the intervention. 91% of the kids (30 out of 33) who participated in the classes before their MRIs had successful scans without anesthesia. On the other hand, only 71% of the children (27 out of 33) who did not go through the program made it through the scan successfully.
The method, run by the Child Life Program at St. Jude, teaches the children and their parents what they can expect to happen when they are receiving an MRI, as well as giving the children things to think about during their scans, and working to decide onthe most effective way for the children to stay still, as all children are different.
Katherine Cejda, a specialist at St. Jude Life and the lead author of the study commented:
"Some patients chose to listen to music or to squeeze a ball to help them remember not to move. Some patients had the option of watching movies or having parents or other adults in the room with them during the test."
This is the first trial of its kind to focus on kids suffering from sickle cell disease and to determine whether this is an effective way to get them to remain still. Cejda notes that there are other programs available all over the U.S. that help kids get ready for MRIs and other procedures they may have to sit through.
September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month and St. Jude is working hard to boost the quality of life factors for kids and teens living with sickle cell disease.
Jane Hankins, M.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Hematology and the study's senior author, highlighted the importance of avoiding anesthesia when possible, due to the fact that it is risky for sickle cell disease patients to be sedated.
Sickle cell disease, which is inherited, occurs when a gene for assembling hemoglobin is mutated. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen through the body. When a person has sickle cell disease, their red blood cells are weaker than normal, sometimes causing the patient severe pain and damaged organs.
Anesthesia often leads to lower body temperature, dehydration, and a drop in blood oxygen levels. Dehydration is dangerous for sickle cell patients, as it can make sickled cells build up, causing harsh pain. This may result in pneumonia-like illness, which causes more pain or acute chest syndrome, leaving the patients hospitalized.
Hankins says that if a sickle cell patient is going to be sedated, it is important that they spend the night before in the hospital to ensure they have adequate amounts of fluids, and in some cases, a blood transfusion.
The new program may also lead to a cut in costs for the hospital. Cost-control is important to St. Jude, regardless of the fact that no family is held responsible for paying for their child's healthcare. It would be beneficial to all health care facilities to start interventions such as this one, and it is now offered to every patient receiving an MRI at St. Jude. Hankins says: "This preparation program offers a real advantage to patients."
Written by Christine Kearney