February 28, 2011
Technicians at a New York hospital improperly X-rayed premature babies, exposing their whole bodies to dangerous radiation, reports The New York Times.
The radiology department at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn routinely gave premature infants whole-body x-rays, even when doctors ordered only a chest x-ray. During these x-rays, they also failed to shield infant’s gonadal area, the reproductive organs, as required by state health codes.
In July 2007, Dr. Salvatore J.A. Sclafani, Chairman or the SUNY Downstate Department of Radiology, noticed that technicians in his department x-rayed the whole body of an infant without protecting the reproductive organs. When he investigated, he found that technicians had subjected that infant to about 10 whole body x-rays.
In a letter to colleagues the next day, Dr. Sclafani wrote that he was “mortified.”
“Full, unabashed, total irradiation of a neonate,” Dr. Sclafani said in the letter, adding, “This poor, defenseless baby.”
These x-rays, called “babygrams” are controversial because of radiation dangers to the infant.
What Dr. Amodio found was alarming, not only were technicians frequently performing whole body x-rays and exposing infants to radiation from head to toes, they were performing CT scans on infants using settings that were too high and causing significant over-irradiation.
While short-term adverse effects from radiation exposure can include burns, of greater worry is the long-term effects such as cancer that may develop years later. Radiation is cumulative, meaning that with successive exposure or greater dosages radiation increases in the body, which increases risk of cancers. Children are more susceptible to radiation injury because they are growing and their cells divide quickly.
Dr. Sclafani and Dr. Amodio instituted new, tighter procedures for radiological imaging of infants and stopped the department’s babygrams. The hospital never reported these radiation errors to state health officials as required by law.