St. John’s Medical Center is looking to buy a new CT scanner, and it appears the hospital will have some help purchasing it. The St. John’s Auxiliary, a long-running organization that fundraises for the hospital, has pledged to raise $250,000 to support the hospital’s push to buy the new machine.

“A CT scanner is something a variety of people in our community will need,” Auxiliary President Connie Hansen said.

The machine St. John’s expects to buy is a SPECT-flash CT scanner, which radiologist Dr. Bobby Jones said is a combined nuclear-imaging machine and regular CT scanner. Nuclear imaging involves injecting patients with radioactive dye and then putting them under a gamma camera that can detect the radioactive agent.

The combination SPECT and CT scanner is more versatile than a typical CT scanner, which uses X-rays to create images of the body. Having both capabilities in one machine means a patient could undergo nuclear imaging and a CT scan at the same time, which gives radiologists a more complete picture.

Nuclear imaging is often used in cancer patients. It can show whether a patient’s bone cancer is worsening, but the images are often low resolution, so the CT scan, which is much clearer, can help doctors pinpoint problems.

“We can fuse the images together,” Jones said. “We get beautiful anatomic detail, and we can be much more confident in reading the scans.”

The Auxiliary recently wrapped up a similar $250,000 pledge to allow the hospital to purchase brachytherapy equipment. Brachytherapy is a new cancer treatment at the hospital in which doctors inject “seeds” of radiation into a patient. It is supposed to decrease side effects and healing time.

Since the SPECT-CT scanner will be used for treating cancer patients, Hansen said, the new pledge is simply a continuation of the Auxiliary’s backing of the emerging brachytherapy program.

“We hear it’s really taking off,” she said, “and we want to help support that going forward.”

The new SPECT-CT scanner is part of a redesign of the radiology department. Putting in a new machine means the hospital has to make some adjustments because of the rules that dictate the use of radioactive materials and X-rays. CT scanners have to be contained in walls that are lined with lead, Jones said, because the lining keeps the X-rays from escaping the room and affecting people on other floors or in other rooms.

The SPECT machine, because it uses radioactive materials, also has some strict regulations. It also needs special materials built into the room to keep the radiation from escaping, and the room must be able to be locked and secured so that the radioactive materials can be tracked.

Jones wasn’t sure of the schedule for the remodel, and Hansen couldn’t put an end date to the fundraising pledge. She pointed to the brachytherapy pledge push as an example, though she said that might not be a predictor of how quickly this one would go.

“Our last cycle met the pledge with three major fundraisers, two Spring Flings and a golf tournament,” she said. “I would hope we are on the same path with the success of recent fundraisers and the support of the community.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-5902 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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