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Sam Bruno would be angry at lack of PET scanner, brother says

If Sam Bruno were alive today and saw that his family and friends are still fundraising to purchase a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner for the northeast, he'd be angry, his brother said.
Frank Bruno, the brother of the late PET scanner advocate Sam Bruno, said his brother would be angry if he knew the province still hasn't agreed to fund the diagnostic equipment for the northeast. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
If Sam Bruno were alive today and saw that his family and friends are still fundraising to purchase a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner for the northeast, he'd be angry, his brother said.

The Sudbury man, who died from colorectal cancer in 2010, fought for PET scans to become a service that's covered under OHIP.

When he won that battle, he started advocating for the government to fund a PET scanner for the northeast, saying it's difficult for sick and frail people to travel to Southern Ontario for the test.

After his death, family, friends and community members took up the torch, and started fundraising to purchase the equipment.

“He'd be angry at the government, that they ignore the 30,000 people on a petition, that they ignore the fact that they did not give fair and equitable access to the citizens of the northeast,” Frank Bruno said.

He made the remarks at the fourth annual PET scan dinner and fundraising gala, which was held Oct. 24 at the Caruso Club.

Between latest the dinner and individual donations at the event, Bruno estimated more than $450,000 has now been raised for to purchase a PET scanner.

However, PET scanners cost at least $2 million, and the province has never promised to fund operating costs. Bruno said he'd probably be able to persuade large companies to make large donations if operating costs were covered.

PET scanners are a powerful diagnostic tool to detect cancer and optimize the management of cancer treatments.

In addition to cancer studies, PET scans are used in cardiology studies to measure damaged heart tissue and in neurology to identify brain disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Epilepsy.

On top of the fact there's no PET scanner in the northeast — the only region in Ontario where there isn't one — Bruno said he's annoyed by the restricted nature of who can get a publicly-insured PET scan in the province.

“People have headaches, for goodness sakes, and they go and get CAT scans,” Bruno said. “We just want to be the same access to a PET scan as a CAT scan.”

While Sam Bruno would be angry his dream hasn't yet come true, his brother said he'd likely be heartened to see that the community is committed to bringing a PET scanner to the northeast.

Among the donors who stepped up at the fundraising dinner were Alyssa Derro, 10, and her sister Ava Derro, 8, who recently raised more than $1,700 by canvassing door-to-door.

The girls' mother, Diana Derro, was Sam Bruno's first cousin. Their donation was matched Nortrax Canada Inc., where their father, Dean Derro, works.

The St. James Catholic Elementary School students also cut off their hair as part of the initiative. Their hair will be used to make a wig for a child going through chemotherapy.

Alyssa told those at the dinner Sam Bruno is her hero, as are all of the people who have raised money for the cause.

One of the people who has fought to bring a PET scanner to northeastern Ontario is Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas.

She said Health Minister Deb Matthews is still using the same excuses for not providing the funding she has since the beginning.

Specifically, Matthews is saying there's no wait list for PET scans in the south, there's not enough people in the northeast to justify it, and Health Sciences North has to find the operating dollars in their own budget.

But Gélinas said she feels Matthews isn't as confident about these arguments as she used to be. She equates the situation to the fight to bring a cancer treatment centre to Sudbury.

“Now that we have it, we see the difference it has made to the people of Sudbury,” Gélinas said.

“People who would never considered treatment before are now having treatment, getting better. You have to go through the same hurdles (for the PET scanner).”