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Northern Ireland hospital's unique cardio scanner that finds problems in a heartbeat

by cate mccurry

It's a world first for a Northern Ireland hospital which could see patients diagnosed - quite literally - in a heartbeat.

A first dedicated CT scanner for heart disease has been installed at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

The innovative machine can take images of the heart in a fraction of a second, leading to quicker diagnosis.

Almost 13 heart attack patients are admitted to Northern Ireland hospitals every day, with approximately 15 heart and chest-related deaths daily.

The CardioGraphe avoids lengthy patient journey visits to the chest pain clinic, treadmill tests and invasive angiograms where dye is pumped through a patient's arteries.

Dr Patrick Donnelly, a consultant cardiologist at the Ulster Hospital, said the unique machine uses two cameras to image the entire heart structure in under a second.

The cardiologist can then definitively diagnose, or rule out, heart disease.

Dr Donnelly said: "As it's so fast and has the highest and best imaging technology, we get very high quality images of the heart that allow us to diagnose heart disease.

"Having access to technology like this is going to really change the pathways by which we investigate patients."

While the chest pain clinic sees one patient per hour, this new system will allow radiographers to scan around 10 to 15 patients in a morning.

Dr Donnelly said he hopes the new scanner will allow patients to be seen much earlier.

He continued: "By putting the focus on technology to give us the answer, it will allow us to use our specialist staff to diagnose and treat patients who most need that time with specialist nurses and doctors.

"In the South Eastern Trust we have some of the highest rates (of heart disease) in the UK.

"Thankfully, we are starting to win the fight against heart disease, in as much as we can identify it early and can deliver definitive treatments that mean that patients don't die."

Dr Donnelly said the reasons behind the high figures included socio-economic factors and legacy issues. He added: "Our weather doesn't help us to get out and exercise as much and we do tend to have high cholesterol levels because of the diet we have.

"Getting the right people to the right specialists early enough could really lead to quite substantial changes in the rates of heart attacks in Northern Ireland."

One patient to benefit from the heart scanner is 72-year-old Keith Miller. The Bangor man and dad-of-one was diagnosed with a heart valve infection and will undergo surgery this week.

He said: "The machine was extremely important in diagnosing me. The whole experience was quick and painless. There was no problem, I just lay there and took a deep breath.

"The surgery has got to be done and the hospital staff have done everything they can for me."

John Adamson (74) was referred for a CT scan last Thursday and less than 24 hours later he was given a diagnosis.

The father-of-two said: "On Friday I was heading to watch the Ulster rugby game when my wife rang me and said that the cardiac ward wanted me to contact them. I rang them and they wanted me to come in, but I explained I was going to the Ulster match and she asked if I could go after.

"But my daughter who was driving told me to catch myself on and I went in straight away.

"I was diagnosed with a mass on my heart thanks to the wonderful machine that spotted it and now I require some surgery.

"It would not have been picked up but for the wonderful machine. I felt stunned when I got the results, but I'm grateful that I know there is an underlying factor and they can do something about it."

CardioGraphe, the world's first dedicated cardiovascular computer tomography (CT) system, was developed by Dublin based GE Healthcare and Arineta Ltd of Israel.

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