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Sam Bruno 'would be very proud, very happy': Ground broken on PET scan suite

Machine expected to be operational by the summer of 2019

Cheryl Bruno said her late husband Sam Bruno, who passed away from colorectal cancer eight years ago, would have been “over the moon” Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for Health Sciences North's new PET scan suite.

“He would be very proud, very happy — so happy that all of the patients would not have to drive to Toronto and drive on that highway,” Cheryl Bruno said.

It was a decade ago, while he was undergoing cancer treatment, that Sam Bruno made a complaint to the Ontario ombudsman that PET scans — a nuclear medicine imaging test — were not an insured service in the province.

When PET scans were later covered under OHIP, Bruno made it his mission to bring one of the machines to northeastern Ontario.

He passed away at the age of 55 on July 15, 2010, but his family set up the Sam Bruno PET Steering Committee to make his dream come true.

Communities across the northeast eventually contributed $4.3 million to the project. 

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has provided $4.6 million toward construction costs for the PET suite and up to $1.6 million in annual operating funding.

Brenda Tessaro, who spoke on behalf of the PET steering committee at the June 13 press conference, had a long list of thank-yous.

That includes everyone from children who raised funds through lemonade stands to the Bruno family to local politicians.

 Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist, once wrote 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,'” Tessaro said. 

“Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. As a community, we may not have changed the world, but as of today, we have changed the landscape of Sudbury and the future of health care for its citizens.”

The PET Scan Suite is being built on stilts at the back of the Ramsey Lake Health Centre. This includes a 4,500 sq. ft. expansion of HSN’s Nuclear Medicine Department, located on Level 2.

Construction of the PET scanner suite is expected to be complete by winter 2019 with the first scan of the GE Discovery MI expected to take place by summer 2019.

Health Sciences North chief of nuclear medicine Dr. Tom Carr said he estimates the new machine will save northerners 477,000 kilometres of travel for health reasons.

He said the PET scanner is an important diagnostic tool that helps in the detection of certain forms of cancer, heart disease and neurological conditions. It will also be a powerful tool in health research, Carr said.

“I've had conversations with various doctors in the line at the cafeteria about the benefits of having PET here,” he said. 

“We're finally getting to see this take shape. We're thankful that this diagnostic test will be available here in Sudbury.”

Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic France Gélinas described her mood as “pure joy” at the press conference.

She has been an active proponent for bringing a PET scanner to Greater Sudbury after being lobbied by Sam Bruno for help.

Gélinas said she didn't want to focus on the negative on such a happy day, but said it has been a very long 10 years of work to convince the reluctant former Liberal Ontario government to fund the project.

And even after the money was secured, there have been delays. Gélinas pointed out that the money was secured in late 2016, and work on the PET scan suite is only beginning now. 

“It took a ton of work,” she said. “It should never have been that hard, it should never have been that long.”