Capturing Critical Images
Radiography Graduate Thrives in Pioneering Pediatric Lab

by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue.
Photos by Cindy D. Meixel.

Behind the glow of computer monitors, a group of medical professionals gathers in a control room. A cardiologist and technologist work in tandem as, in the adjoining room, a highly advanced piece of medical equipment scans a patient’s heart, sending detailed photos to the control room’s monitors.

"There is a big responsibility. Iím being handed someone's child."

The images show the structure of a patient’s heart and blood vessels, so doctors may pinpoint abnormalities and measure how well the heart is pumping blood.

Eric Danz, '95, is one of three cardiovascular MRI technologists in the XMR Suite at Childrenís Hospital of Philadelphia. The suite is one of the first of its kind in a pediatric hospital and is a precedent-setter in the field of pediatric cardiac MRI.

Sitting next to the cardiologist to capture the images he or she needs to see is Eric Danz, a 1995 radiography graduate and one of three highly trained technicians in the combined Catheterization Lab and MRI Suite – called XMR – at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The suite, which opened in May 2008, is one of only eight in the world and one of the first of its kind at a U.S. pediatric hospital.

“Since acquiring my radiography degree I’ve gone on to do many things, including getting my MRI certification and subsequently managing two imaging facilities, but what I’m most proud of is what I’m doing now,” Danz said.

The images Danz gathers are critical to the decisions doctors will make to ensure a long and healthy future for their young patients – some who are only a few hours old.

In the XMR Suite, the patient table is affixed to rails so that – should doctors determine from the images that catheterization is needed for treatment – the patient can be moved seamlessly from the MRI to the catheterization lab, then returned to MRI to immediately assess how the heart is responding to the treatment.

A table on rails, foreground, can move from the Siemens Avanto 1.5-Tesla MRI machine, background, to the cardiac catheterization lab and, if need be, back again to the MRI Suite so a patient can be assessed and treated in the two labs under one anesthetic.Prior to this innovation, Danz says, patients were anesthetized to undergo the initial MRI, recovered in a recovery room, and sent back to their hospital room.

“After the MRI and depending on the severity, the patient might need cardiac catheterization, which would involve the same process of anesthesia, cardiac catheterization and recovery,” Danz explained. “In some cases, the cardiologist may want to quantify the results with another cardiac MRI.”

For the patient, that would mean another round of anesthesia and recovery.

“So when all is said and done, this very sick child might have to undergo anesthesia three times, thus increasing the risk vastly,” Danz said.

The three-day process also increased treatment time, the patient’s stay and the bill.

“By integrating the MRI with the cath table, the anesthesia risk goes down threefold, since the child will only be anesthetized once, and the entire procedure is done in one day,” Danz said. “The stress to the patient and family is significantly reduced.”

In a control room adjacent to the MRI Suite, Danz works in tandem with cardiologist Kevin Whitehead M.D., Ph.D., who outlines the images he needs to see while Danz prescribes the different series needed to acquire them. Such a team approach is used for many scans, because the children who come to the lab are typically very sick and cannot tolerate being re-sedated and re-scanned.

Danz left his job as director of operations at Upright MRI in Cherry Hill, N.J., to take a staff MR technician job at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was a step down, but he saw an opportunity to learn more at CHOP.

“I knew I missed caring for patients, and I couldn’t shake the feeling I had more to learn about MRI, and the business side could wait and … would be benefitted if I had, in fact, mastered the field.”

Not long after, his philosophy proved true when the new XMR Suite – and with it a position for a cardiovascular MRI technician – opened.

Because it is the most safe, least invasive method for imaging the heart and can produce both still and moving pictures of the heart while it is beating, MRI has become the standard of care for cardiac patients, and its benefits are still being uncovered.

“It’s still in its infancy, even though (MRI is) 20 years old,” Danz said. “We’re just discovering what we can do with it.”

He attends conferences for the Society of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance, where he learns what is on the horizon in the field, and when it comes to pediatric cardiovascular MRI, many of those advancements are being made at CHOP.

“This technology … is very new, and it’s very exciting to be right there as it develops at the best children’s hospital in the nation,” he said. “All which would not have been possible without the education I received at Pennsylvania College of Technology.”

Danz chose to enroll at Penn College because it’s the school his father, Jere, wanted him to attend. Jere Danz is a 1960 graduate of the printing major at Williamsport Technical Institute, a predecessor of Penn College, and went on to work for many years as a printer for NCR Corp. (which was subsequently purchased by AT&T) in the Lancaster area.

Eric Danz, '95, stands in the atrium at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where he specializes in pediatric cardiac MRI.Unsure what he wanted to do, Eric studied the college catalog, and the radiography program caught his interest. He worked in radiography for two years after graduation, then decided to “seek a bit of adventure before settling down, always knowing that I did, in fact, have a trade to return to when I was satisfied.”

An outdoor enthusiast, he spent time as a ski instructor at Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont and briefly tried his hand as an apprentice cabinetmaker before returning to work in the medical imaging field in Philadelphia.

“After my return, something inside of me turned on,” he said. “I just wanted to learn more and more and achieve. That’s the wonderful thing about medicine. There is always more to learn.”

The great outdoors – in the form of ocean waves in neighboring New Jersey – beckoned Danz.

“We found we were at the beach more than we were in the city, so we decided to move to the beach,” he said.

He now enjoys the best of both worlds – a meaningful career and a fulfilling home life – separated by a two-hour commute from Somers Point, N.J., to the Children’s Hospital. Home is not just sand and surf, but also his wife, Thao, and a growing 1-year-old daughter.

Each day he goes to work knowing he will be helping another parent’s most precious treasure.

“Having a child has certainly increased the compassion I feel for my patients,” he said. “To be honest, it is harder than it (had been) to see patients about the same age as my daughter, but I’m actually glad for that, because I feel it helps me go the extra mile to help that child and family. (And) working at CHOP has given me an appreciation for what a wonderful gift from God a healthy child actually is.”

About one in 100 children is born with heart disease, and four to five undergo cardiac MRI at Children’s Hospital each day.

“There is a big responsibility,” Danz said. “I’m being handed someone’s child.” He knows that the treatment and care they receive in CHOP’s Cardiac Center is sometimes their only chance at life.

“Even though I’m just a small part of that … I feel obligated, I feel very honored, and I guess I feel hopeful,” he said. “I’m very glad they’re here. We get patients from around the world, and when they come here, I know they’re going to be OK.” ■

Image of the Future

An associate degree in radiography from Pennsylvania College of Technology prepares students to sit for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists board examination to become a registered medical radiographer, or X-ray technician. Once licensed, a variety of lucrative career paths unfold.

Radiographer

Performs diagnostic examinations using X-rays as well as procedures that require the use of contrast agents, such as fluoroscopy.

Computed Tomography (CT or CAT scan) Technologist

Takes detailed, cross-sectional pictures of the body. Some employers require additional board certification. Penn College radiography students receive foundational education in CT during their final semester.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist

Uses radio waves, powerful magnets and computers to create images of body parts. Requires training or additional education and certification, depending on the employer. Penn College radiography students are introduced to MRI and the physics of MRI during their final semester.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Uses ultrasound equipment to produce images of the body. Most employers require additional certification through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Students may take 13 credits in medical sonography at Penn College to earn an ultrasound competency credential or apply the credits to a bachelorís degree in applied health studies: radiography concentration.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Administers a radioactive drug and operates cameras that detect and map the concentration of the radiopharmaceutical in a patientís body. Penn College holds an articulation agreement with the Nuclear Medicine Institute at the University of Findlay in Ohio, where students may earn a second associate degree or transfer their Penn College credits toward a bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine.

Radiation Therapy Technologist

Uses a radiation beam to treat cancer patients. Additional education and certification often are required.

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