Donna Williams’ dying wish was to raise money toward the purchase of a piece of medical equipment that would have helped doctors diagnose her illness sooner and perhaps changed the course of her treatment. And her life.
Williams, 54, died April 6, 2016, of cardiac amyloidosis, a disorder caused by deposits of an abnormal protein in heart tissue, making it difficult for the heart to function properly.
The Sudbury woman was scheduled to have a cardiac MRI in Ottawa, but wasn’t healthy enough to travel there and sadly died two weeks after being diagnosed.
Bill Crumplin said he and Williams, an exceptionally bright woman, did not make it to their fourth wedding anniversary before she succumbed “brutally fast” to the rare disease. Had she been able to have a cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (the full name of an MRI) scan in January 2016 rather than March, the outcome might have been different.
It would have come too late to help her, but Williams dearly wanted to raise $25,000 for a second MRI at HSN. A “meaningful” amount of money has already been raised in her honour through the Donna Williams MRI Fund at the Health Sciences North Foundation.
Crumplin, an environmental studies professor at Laurentian University and former Sudbury mayoral candidate, said his late wife knew how badly Sudbury needed a second imager.
“I thought I had to do it,” he said about continuing Williams’ mission.
‘Gems of Sudbury’
Williams had several transient ischemic attacks in November 2015 and was recovering to a degree when she developed a thrombosis in her arm in January 2016 and suffered a stroke two weeks later. A cardiac MRI would have detected the disease sooner.
Crumplin met Williams, who managed the Atlas of Canada for Natural Resources Canada, at a conference in 2003, where she received an award for lifetime contributions to geography, and they were married in 2012.
Williams later moved here and quickly grew to love her adopted home, especially the people, whom she called “the gems of Sudbury,” said Crumplin.
She took to Sudbury living, enjoying walking on the boardwalk at Ramsey Lake and “she loved this place,” said Crumplin of Hard Rock 42 Gastropub in an interview there.
Williams literally puts a face on the need for a second imager and the goal of raising $6.1 million. People in the northeast face long waits for MRIs. Crumplin addresses that in a message in a mailout from the Health Sciences North Foundation in which he shares the importance of having the newest and most advanced imaging equipment.
Health Sciences North is on target to have a second MRI scanner operating in five years, ending middle-of-the-night visits for patients booked for the diagnostic test and reducing the wait time for them.
HSN is operating its one MRI machine 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, completing about 13,000 scans a year. Still patients must wait an average 52 days for a test that should be performed within the provincial target of 28 days.
When the second MRI is operating, about 900 more tests will be done annually, but they will be done within a 16-hour day, providing quicker access and greater convenience to patients who have them and staff who perform them.
Mark Hartman is HSN’s senior vice-president of patient experience and digital transformation. Hartman was among the HSN managers who years ago worked to eliminate several steps in the process of patients getting an MRI, dramatically reducing the wait time.
Those efficiencies remain in place, but the sheer volume of people needing an MRI has pushed the wait time up again to almost twice the provincial target. HSN is one of 10 Ontario hospitals that operate its MRI machines more than 16 hours a day and the only one of seven academic health sciences centres that does not have a second MRI.
“We perform as efficiently as anywhere in the province,” said Hartman. “Wait times are really driven by demand.”
Hartman said the board of directors of HSN gave its support in September to raise funds for a second MRI. A second scanner is high on the list of priorities in HSN’s recently released strategic plan. The cost to purchase a second MRI, including renovations, is $3.5 million and it will fall to the Health Sciences North Foundation to raise that money. But the fundraising won’t stop there.
The foundation is also tasked with raising $2.6 million to replace the existing MRI, which is almost 10 years old and nearing the end of its life cycle.
HSN officials are confident the second MRI will be operating by 2024 and that it will be possible to replace the first MRI by 2024 as well.
MRI space built in
When the former Laurentian Hospital site was expanded to consolidate the city’s three acute care hospitals, space was allocated for two MRIs, but the hospital’s electrical systems will have to be updated to accommodate two imagers. Both will be located in the North Tower diagnostic imaging area.
The process is at the design phase now, said Hartman. When that is completed and is approved, the board will then be asked to approve the purchase of equipment and the issuing of tenders for renovations.
HSN received extra operational funding last fiscal year to do more MRIs, but that money is going to North Bay Regional Health Centre because the tests can’t all be done in a timely fashion here. When two MRIs are available in Sudbury, that funding will return.
MRIs are typically used for soft tissue imaging, often in neurology and neurosurgical services, and play a role in oncology, cancer diagnosis and staging of treatment. HSN has recently introduced cardiac MRIs for people like Williams who would have had to leave Sudbury for such a test.
Health Sciences North Foundation executive director Mary Lou Hussak is leading the drive to raise more than $6 million for the scanners. The foundation is focusing all its efforts right now on raising the $3.5 million for the purchase and installation of a second MRI, then $2.6 million to replace the first.
So far, $1.1 million has been raised, without campaigning, thanks to a $500,000 donation from Carmen and Sandy Fielding and another so far anonymous $500,000 donation.
Hussak has no doubt residents of Sudbury and the Northeast will give generously to the MRI fund. While some have made huge donations, all amounts, large or small, will be gratefully accepted.
People can make individual or company donations, or hold small events such as birthday or tea parties or dinners in their home where friends can donate to the cause. Hussak encourages people thinking of holding such events to contact the foundation because it has resources that could make that easier.
The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care does not fund equipment purchases for hospitals. All equipment money must be raised by the community.
That’s why it is important for the community to come together “because if we want a new MRI we have to raise the funds ourselves,” said Hussak.
Helping does not only have to come in the form of a cheque or cash donation. Spreading the word about the need for two MRIs and advocating for that will also help, said Hussak.
Meanwhile, construction continues at HSN’s Ramsey Lake Health Centre on the suite to accommodate a combined positron emission tomography/computed tomography scanner. There was a short delay in the early days, said Hartman, but efforts are being made to make up for lost time. The hospital estimates the suite will be finished in the spring and do the first PET scan this summer.
Carol Mulligan is an award-winning reporter and one of Greater Sudbury’s most experienced journalists.