WUSTL teams with Scott Air Force Base to deliver 13-ton MRI machine to Argentina

Airmen from Scott Air Force Base load the MRI machine onto a C-17 Globemaster.
Airmen from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., load an MRI machine onto a C-17 Globemaster III here June 12, 2009. The MRI machine, which was donated by Washington University in Saint Louis, Mo., will be flown to Salta, Argentina, by the U.S. Air Force to aid in their humanitarian mission there.

Members of the 375th Logistics Readiness Squadron here June 12, loaded the 26,000-pound heart of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine onto a C-17 bound for Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. — and ultimately Argentina.

The MRI equipment was donated to a hospital in Salta, Argentina, by Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis.

After almost three years of planning, the Air Force and the Denton Amendment have helped make the movement of this large, high-tech, piece of medical equipment possible. The Denton Amendment allows private organizations to use available space on U.S. military cargo planes to ship humanitarian goods.

The first half of this Denton shipment was flown from Scott AFB to Charleston AFB to Argentina, in August. The remainder of the MRI scanner arrived at Scott June 12 via tractor-trailer from St. Louis. MRI creates detailed images of the internal structure of the human body.

The crated MRI core was hoisted off of the tractor-trailer by a crane, and placed on a 25K Loader. The crate containing the MRI magnet was then loaded onto a C-17 and flown to Charleston AFB. From there the equipment will be flown to Buenos Aires, Argentina, then transported 900 miles by truck to Salta, where it will be assembled with the device’s other electronic parts.

The shipment remained demagnetized apart from the rest of the machine.

In Argentina the equipment will be used for general medical use and for medical research conducted by Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin of Washington University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Erausquin will be conducting schizophrenia research.

Dr. Thomas Conturo, also from Washington University School of Medicine, said the native population in Salta, and the northwest region of Argentina, will receive MRI scanner services free of charge. Researchers from Washington University will team up with a non-profit organization, called FULTRA, to operate the MRI scanner. FULTRA provides neurological and psychiatric care for Argentina’s indigenous population.

“It’s really an unserved population,” Dr. Conturo said. “There is no MRI scanner for that part of the world essentially.”

He said research will focus on psychiatry, but could also include cancer and heart disease research.

“This MRI scanner could become a focus point for bringing patients in to get health care and doing research and treating the patients,” Dr. Conturo said.

He said transporting the scanner from St. Louis to South America has been a logistical challenge — one that is not over.

“To get the machine operational; that is part of the challenge,” Dr. Conturo said. “The whole thing has been a big challenge. It’s been one big experiment because nobody has tried to do this before.”

On June 12 at Scott AFB, Staff Sgt. Javawn Morris, 375th LRS, said the squadron didn’t have any problems with the 26,000-pound load. “Just double, double, double checking stuff,” he said. “With the crane it was actually really easy. They just took the rings and hooked it up to each side and lifted it up like it was nothing.”

The MRI scanner is scheduled to arrive in Argentina June 19.

This story was republished with permission from the United States Air Force.