Although serious injuries and trauma are an almost daily occurrence for the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC), the ability to make fast and accurate diagnoses has been hampered in the past by a lack of imaging equipment. As a regional care centre instead of a full-service hospital, doctors regularly send their most seriously injured patients to hospitals in North Vancouver or Vancouver to get tests.
The Whistler Health Care Foundation has been working since 1995 to obtain the proper equipment by raising some or all of the money to purchase the equipment, and in recent years have helped to acquire a C-arm portable X-ray to diagnose limb injuries, an ultrasound for tissue imaging, and teleradiology equipment to send images to doctors and specialists in other hospitals to assist in making a diagnosis.
But the most significant acquisition to date, made possible after more than five years of lobbying and fundraising and the 2010 Games, is a new Computer Tomography (CT) scanner. On Friday, April 3 officials broke ground at the Whistler Health Care Centre for a new wing that will house the scanner, with the goal of having it up and running by October.
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, the vice chair of the Sea to Sky Hospital District and a ski patroller, knows just what the scanner means for Whistler.
"As I was leaving work on the mountain to come here today we were actually taking a head injury off the hill... that this piece of equipment could be used to treat," he said. "I don't know anybody who isn't glad that we'll have this scanner... for these types of injuries."
Dr. Adam Kendall, head doctor at the health care centre, knows exactly what's at stake. Between skiing and snowboarding, and the growth of mountain biking, he's seen the number of serious injuries coming into the WHCC increase every year. In some cases speed can mean the difference between life and death.
"Thanks to a generous donation by GE we were able to upgrade our goal from a 16 to a 64 slice scanner, which means we can have a diagnosis that much faster. This machine can do a full body scan in under a minute," he said.
"(Actor) Natasha Richardson's death was so highly publicized, but we get head injuries coming in every day where having the right equipment can make a huge difference."
Doctors sometimes have minutes to diagnosis patients, and decide, "Who can stay, who goes down (to the city), and who goes to surgery."
As well as brain injuries, Kendall says the scanner can be used to quickly diagnose spinal injuries, as well as illnesses and injuries to lungs, heart, and internal organs. In some cases it can be used to determine the extent of orthopedic injuries, like broken bones and damaged ligaments. It's estimated, based on the population, number of visitors, and traffic to the WHCC, that the equipment will perform 3,000 scans every year.
Marnie Simon, chair of the Whistler Health Care Centre Foundation, thanked all the donors that made the scanner possible - especially GE, which donated the scanner as an Olympic legacy for the corridor.
"This day is very special to the three foundations in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton," she said. "It was a big task and we were sometimes fighting the process. We started quite a long time ago, but we were at last given the go-ahead to start fundraising. Since then there have been a few economic roadblocks, some which just about finished us off, but we always managed to get back on track."
Less than two years ago the project was sidelined by construction costs, which jumped about 50 per cent from the initial estimates. As well, the 900 square foot building requires pilings to support the weight of the scanner and stabilize it while making images, in addition to special construction materials that eliminate interference.
The cost of the construction project is $2.29 million with $1.1 million from the Sea to Sky Regional Hospital District, $897,000 from the Whistler Health Care Foundation, and $95,000 and $29,000 respectively from the foundations in Squamish and Pemberton. Vancouver Coastal Health will pay for the ongoing operation of the facility, or roughly $200,000 a year.
Signficant donations include $275,000 from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, $100,000 from CN, $50,000 from the Houssian Foundation, $20,000 from Royal Bank of Canada, $10,000 from the American Friends of Whistler, $50,000 from Jim Duncan, $10,000 from the Szocs family, $10,000 in anonymous donations, and $40,000 in donation made in Memoriam.
Other fundraising includes events held as a tribute to Dave Sheets, who died in 2003 of a head injury, and an event held by the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association after one of its members was injured in a crash.