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Fatal MRI Accident Is First of Its Kind

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Shellock and Chaljub both say that implants in the body pose a greater danger for MRI accidents than do potential projectiles. For example, Chaljub says that a woman who had an aneurysm clip in her brain died after undergoing an MRI and "a welder who had a piece of metal imbedded in his eye was blinded in that eye."

"The real problem is implants, pacemakers, or pins [in joints] that can get dislodged by the pull or the magnet or monitoring devices that heat up and burn the patient," says Shellock.

Mark Golden, a public relations consultant with Newman Communications in Boston, Mass., knows first-hand about the risks associated with MRIs. Golden has ongoing low-back pain and three years ago he was scheduled for an MRI evaluation. "They asked me if I ever had any broken bones or if I had had heart surgery," Golden tells WebMD. "But their questions never went above the neck," says Golden, who has a shunt in his brain.

But at the last minute Golden says that he backed out of the MRI because "I have claustrophobia, and I just couldn't do it."

About six months ago he found himself again scheduled for an MRI because of continuing back problems. He decided to grit his teeth and try to overcome his claustrophobia. "But first they asked me some questions, including one about brain surgery. When I told them I had a shunt, they said no MRI for me," says Golden. He says he asked the MRI technicians what would happen to him if he underwent MRI scanning and "they said the magnet would heat up my shunt and possibly explode my head."

Golden says he thinks the technicians were exaggerating, but he has no desire to test them. "I got a simple CT-scan and that answered the questions about my back," he says.

Chaljub says that type of careful questioning that Golden had at his second MRI appointment should be routine procedure at all imaging centers.

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