After years of fundraising, Health Sciences North officially opens PET scanner

When Sam Bruno got diagnosed with cancer in 2005, he probably never imagined his fight for better cancer testing in northeastern Ontario would result in a hospital suite with his name on it.

Machine uses nuclear imaging to diagnose cancer

The Sam Bruno PET Scanner Suite is now officially open in Sudbury. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

When Sam Bruno got diagnosed with cancer in 2005, he probably never imagined his fight for better cancer testing in northeastern Ontario would result in a hospital suite with his name on it.

Bruno died from colon cancer in 2009, but not before spearheading an effort to get a PET scanner to Sudbury, Ont.

On Wednesday, the Sam Bruno PET Scanner Suite officially opened at Health Sciences North. It's a nuclear imaging test used to diagnose different types of cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders.

"[Sam] would be grateful," Frank Bruno, Sam's brother said at the opening. "He'd be happy with the way the community pulled together. Everything that he fought for and wanted has come true for him. He would be extremely thrilled."

Frank says when his brother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005, he was determined to get the best care he could. Frank says Sam heard about PET scanners and travelled to Toronto to get a scan done. The scan found cancer in a second location.

"That changed a lot for him," Frank said. "That changed his direction of care with his physicians."

Unfortunately, Frank says his brother's cancer had gotten worse but he says that pushed Sam to try harder to get the technology to northeastern Ontario.

First, he lobbied the province to have the procedure covered by OHIP. After that happened, he pushed to get a machine in Sudbury. His family, friends and the community raised $4.3 million to help purchase the $8.9 million project.

Frank Bruno, Sam's brother, says Sam would be proud the PET scanner is open in Sudbury. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

"We're extremely proud of what Sam started," Frank said. "We're extremely proud of the community rallying behind to support us. It's a proud moment for our family."

It's a project Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic France Gelinas has been working on from the start as well. She says Sam first reached out to her in 2008.

"After five minutes of listening to Sam, he had me," she said. "I saw what he was trying to do and I supported what he was trying to do."

She says it's good news that this type of technology is now available in Sudbury. But she says northeastern Ontario was the last region in the province to get such a piece of equipment.

"All of this effort to do something that should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health," she said.

"It is their responsibility to ensure equity of access to all of us Ontarians and they never respected that responsibility. It was truly grassroots."

The technology isn't new but now patients won't have to travel to get scanned. Dr. Ryan Carlson, a radiation oncologist at Health Sciences North, says having the machine in Sudbury means faster results.

Dr. Ryan Carlson is a radiation oncologist at the Northeast Cancer Centre at Health Sciences North. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

"One of the biggest advantages is that the images are available immediately on our electronic medical records so that we're not needing to track those down," he said.

"This allows us to determine the full extent of a patient's cancer so we can develop the best possible treatment options for them."

The hospital anticipates it will perform 1,100 scans in the first year. It says that will save a total of 880,000 kilometres in travel for patients in Sudbury and northeastern Ontario.

Sudbury's hospital can now officially say it has a PET scanner. The technology will help hundreds of thousands of people in our region to more effectively battle cancer. We talk with one of the people who helped bring this PET scanner to the north. 8:59

About the Author

Martha Dillman is a multimedia journalist based in Sudbury. You can find her on Twitter @marthaCBC or by email


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