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Health Beat: New strategy to train kids to master the MRI

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 10 2013 09:25:32 AM CDT
Updated On: Oct 10 2013 04:43:50 PM CDT

Getting an MRI can be scary and uncomfortable, especially if you're claustrophobic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Getting an MRI can be scary and uncomfortable, especially if you're claustrophobic. While sedation is an option, there's growing concern about the effects of general anesthesia on the developing brains on children. Now, there is a new program that can eliminate the risks by training kids to have drug-free MRIs.

If you have an MRI, these are the rules:

"I walk in the room. I go on the table. The table rises. I go in the machine, and I stay very still," said Christian Welch, 7.

Welch knows there's no wiggle room in an MRI machine, but he's naturally a spontaneous roller.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists said children go under anesthesia about six million times a year in the United States. Still, Christian’s mom didn’t want to put him under.

"There are always risks with anesthesia," said Christian’s mother, Melody Welch "I'm a nurse and I know that very well."

The most-feared risks are brain damage and death, but doctors said that almost never happens. Sedation-free scanning wipes out those risks. It also reduces wait times for scheduling, which means faster test results.

That’s why Melody Welch signed Christian up for Wolfson Children's Hospital's new "MR-I am Ready!" program.

"It was an answer to a prayer," said Welch.

"Our strategy is just to help kids feel prepared and so in that way they feel in control. They know they're not going to be surprised by anything," said Laura Merriem McCalvin, a child life specialist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

Armed with pictures and video, McCalvin introduces kids to the MRI — what it is, what it does and what it sounds like.

McCalvin asked Christian, "How loud is it again?" Christian replied, "It's really, really, really loud."

Next, kids practice lying still inside this play tunnel while listening to those loud sounds and thinking about what makes them happy.

"We plan what they're going to think about while they're in there, so they have a job to do," said McCalvin. "Their job is to hold still, and think about whatever they chose."

Welch said Christian thinks about, "Star Wars. You know they have great imaginations, so he just laid there very still and thought about a million things."

In the end, Christian was picture perfect.

"Easy," said Christian, who was able to remain perfectly still for two hours.

If you can’t make it to Wolfson Children's Hospital for the training, you can review McCalvin's MR-I Am Ready prep book.

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