Picture worth a thousand breaths

It was one of those things that was always in the back of Bill Kading’s mind.

The 64-year-old food service director at Desert Springs Hospital didn’t lose sleep over it, but whenever he thought about his parents, he couldn’t help but wonder whether he’d die as they had.

From heart failure.

He made all the right moves to fight it off: ate sensibly, didn’t party too hard, exercised, did what his doctor ordered.

Still, he knew that existing testing couldn’t always pick up existing heart disease or the earliest signs of it.

And then he heard that Desert Springs CEO Sam Kaufman not only had ordered a new scanner that was advertised to do just that, but he was giving some hospital employees free scans as his radiology team became acquainted with the advanced computed tomography technology that provides an entire 3-D image of the heart in about a heartbeat.

Kading was the first to sign up in January for the diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (frequently called slices), both vertically and horizontally.

Not only did the new 256-slice CT scanner produce images faster than the old 64-slice CT, doctors told Kading it was also far more accurate and reliable and reduced radiation exposure by as much as 80 percent.

“Though it was the latest and greatest, not everybody wanted to be the first volunteer,” recalled Lan-Dai Addington, the hospital’s radiology director. “Bill took the initiative. He wanted to know if he had the heart disease that ran in his family.”

Turns out he didn’t. His heart’s anatomy looked great. Even the coronary arteries where atherosclerosis occurs were clean.

But Kading still had a problem — a real problem that threatened his life.

The scan showed he had a mass on his left lung.

Both Addington and the hospital’s medical director of radiology, Dr. Armen Hovanessian, saw it.

“I make sure when I look at scans that I try to never miss anything on them, even if I’m basically doing testing on the heart,” Hovanessian said last week as he pointed out Kading’s mass on a hospital computer screen.

Hovanessian had to tell his longtime hospital colleague what he found.

“That wasn’t easy,” the doctor said. “I treat all my patients as if they were friends and family but fortunately that’s not something I have to tell them.”

Further testing would show that the mass was cancerous.

As Hovanessian talked about the “incredible detail” the new CT scanner provides, Kading stared at the computer screen beside the doctor, seeing, for the first time, the images of the diseased lung that may have soon killed him.

Twice he moved closer to the screen to see the white blob that could have made him another cancer statistic.

“Thanks for saving my life, doctor,” Kading said, shaking Hovanessian’s hand.

Since the scan, Dr. Rick Martin removed Kading’s left lung, a procedure that kept him out of work for a month.

He’s now on a chemotherapy regimen that will finish in about eight weeks. Every Friday he gets a dose of anti-cancer drugs that he says keeps him in bed for the weekend.

“But I’m good to go on Monday for work,” he said.

Martin said Kading’s prognosis is excellent for a healthy future.

That the new CT scanner caught health problems of several hospital employees didn’t really surprise radiology director Addington.

“It’s just so powerful, ” she said as she stood in the darkness of the radiology lab (employees call it the “Batcave”) where scans are read. “For the first time we can even see what so many heart patients worry about — whether the stents that have been put in to keep arteries open are in the right position and going to last.”

Only Kading’s scan, however, could find a life-threatening condition among employees.

“I had smoked a little bit in the past, but was never a chain smoker,” he said. “I never was short of breath when I jogged.”

He seems mystified that doctors say his cancer, which was caught at stage 2, was growing fast and could have quickly been largely untreatable.

“I didn’t have any pain in my chest, no coughing, nothing,” he said. “If it weren’t for the scan, I’m sure I would have been at stage 4 before I had symptoms that would have had me going to the doctor to get checked out. I literally had no idea.”

Kading’s wife, Stephanie Anderson, was visiting family when her husband first got news about the mass.

She said she’s “fantastically grateful” that her husband’s cancerous mass was found and often wonders how it came to be that the hospital offered free scans to employees “at just the right time.”

Radiologist Hovanessian has an explanation that doesn’t come out of a management or medical book.

“You can have a great staff like we have here, people who really care, but you also need some luck,” Hovanessian says. “Bill had some good luck at a good time.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.