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Head Games

Community brings its A-Game to goal of securing a CT scan for Whistler Health Care Centre



Stu Armstrong's horse is bolting riderless across a field in Pemberton.

Spooked by a bear, she gallops the entire 1.5 kilometres back to the barn, where other riders, recognizing her, go looking for Armstrong.

They find him, feeling as if he's been crash-tackled by three football players. When Sassy Jones started to bolt, his foot slipped from the stirrups. He slid out of the saddle's sweet spot. His mare, a quarterhorse, is built for short bursts of speed. She can hit 30 km/h in three strides. "I realized I'd lost control. I had to make a decision, then and there," he says. Stu decided to let go.

He hit the ground hard enough to leave a crater-hole, bounced, left another divet and decimated a thorn bush with the impact.

Someone gave him a ride back to the barn so he could check on his horse, "a willful stubborn mare" that he spoils guiltlessly and claims he "would never have picked out of a crowd." She marks him, unusually, with her nose, tapping out a pattern across his abdomen, five times. He drives himself to the Pemberton Health Centre, where the emergency doctors immediately put him in a neck brace, on a spinal board, and transport him to Lions Gate for a CT scan.

A CT scan is a computed tomography machine that can generate three-dimensional images inside the body non-invasively through ionizing radiation. It scans soft tissue and bone and can quickly detect fractures, clots, tumours, and bleeds.

Armstrong's accident takes place Sept. 11, 2009. Whistler's brand new CT scan is not scheduled to open until Oct. 23. So, at 4:15 p.m., Stu Armstrong is driven to Lions Gate by ambulance, where he lies in a busy emergency room corridor alone and immobilized in a cervical collar on a rigid backboard, for six hours, before finally being checked in to scan.

His head and neck are given the all-clear. But the CT image reveals something else, a carcenoid tumour in his stomach. "We found this funny looking growth in your lower intestine," he is told at 10:30 p.m., "and it needs to come out pretty quick." Armstrong is booked for surgery, Oct. 22. And then he's left to make his way home, wondering if his horse just saved his life.


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On Friday, Oct. 23, while Armstrong lies in recovery in Vancouver, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Whistler's new $2.3 million CT scanner and facility will take place. Although the celebration is bound to be life-affirming, the equipment it hails is not actually likely to be life-saving.

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