One of the options available to doctors when diagnosing or treating a patient is the use of nuclear medicine.

Nuclear medicine imaging is used to pinpoint a disease and radioactive isotopes can be used to treat specific parts of the body.

The American College of Radiology has given Howard Regional Health System a three-year accreditation for general imaging and nuclear cardiology imaging. The hospital has been accredited since 2001.

Kelly Fitzgerald has been working as a nuclear medical technician for the past 21 years.

“Although the basics of the job are the same every day, nothing is the same from one patient to the next,” she said. “We might do five bone scans in a day, they are all different. There are so many different reasons to do a scan.”

A radioactive solution is injected into a patient and the radiation adheres to the bones, showing doctors where there are potential problems on a computer screen.

Fitzgerald said in some cases the technicians inject a set amount of a particular type of isotope to treat a specific organ of the body.

“Everything is organ specific,” she said.

Nuclear medicine is used mainly to allow visualization of organs and regions within organs that cannot be seen on conventional X-ray images.

Nuclear medicine imaging is used as a diagnostic tool for certain diseases such as cancers and coronary artery disease.

Natalie Jones has been a nuclear medical technician for three years and became interested in the field after doing a job shadow.

Brandy LoPilato has been working at Howard Regional for six months as a nuclear medical technician.

“I wanted to do something involved in patient care, but didn’t want to be a nurse,” she said.

Fitzgerald said that not every hospital has a nuclear medicine department, but the numbers are growing as a result of demand.

A lot of doctor’s offices are now having the equipment installed.

“Nuclear medicine has been around since the 1950s,” Fitzgerald said. “It has always been widely used.”

She said normally a radioactive scan is used to confirm a previous diagnosis by a doctor.

“It can verify breast cancer and whether or not a cancer has spread to the bones. It is very popular to determine lung cancer because it is a non-invasive procedure.”

The three women are monitored daily and monthly by monitors for their exposure to radiation.

“We see people every three to six months to determine if a disease is spreading or if a particular treatment is working,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t tell people what the scans show.”

Jones said the technicians do get attached to certain patients.

“When the patient is sent to us, there is usually something going on,” she said. “That is what makes the job hard.

Jones said it is difficult to see a sick patient coming back on a regular basis and there are no signs of improvement.

“Sometimes a doctor will tell us how the patients are doing,” Fitzgerald said. “Doctors refer patients to the department that are not responding to usual treatments. This is not a last ditch effort.”

LoPilato said a common question from patients is are they going to glow in the dark as a result of the treatments.

All three technicians said family members and friends joked about their being radioactive at first.

Ken de la Bastide can be reached at (765) 454 -8580 or via e-mail at

What it is?

Nuclear imaging uses low doses of radioactive substances linked to compounds used by the body’s cells or compounds that attach to tumor cells. Using special detection equipment, the radioactive substances can be traced in the body to see where and when they concentrate.

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