In the past, pathologists at WMed in the midst of a death investigation would spend more than an hour collecting a full body X-ray as part of their inquiry.
The task, Dr. Joyce deJong said recently, could be taxing and took at least two people to complete.
Now, with the recent purchase of a Lodox scanner, an advanced full-body digital X-ray imaging device, a task that took two people more than an hour to complete is now able to be done by a single person in 13 seconds.
“It’s absolutely invaluable,” said Dr. deJong, a professor of Pathology and chair of the medical school’s Department of Pathology. In addition to her duties at the medical school, Dr. deJong is the Medical Examiner for 10 counties in Michigan, including Kalamazoo.
In addition to Dr. deJong, other faculty in the medical school's Department of Pathology also serve as deputy medical examiners for 10 counties in Michigan.
Dr. deJong said the Lodox scanner is a refurbished model that was purchased in June for $275,000. She said the scanner has already proven to be “an exceptional investment” and pathologists have been putting the scanner to use in death investigations since July.
She said only one other Medical Examiner’s office in Michigan – Wayne County – currently has a Lodox scanner.
“It fits well into our big picture goal,” Dr. deJong said. “We really are striving in the medical examiner’s office to efficiently serve counties in Michigan, primarily in the Southwest region. But we’re also well-positioned if there were a mass-fatality incident, this machine is a huge asset for us in that we can provide it even to counties we’re not currently working with.”
The Lodox scanner is capable of providing a full-body X-ray in 13 seconds of an individual who is up to 6 feet tall. According to the National Institute of Justice, the machine was invented in South Africa as a tool to determine whether workers in the country’s diamond mines were swallowing diamonds they found.
Dr. deJong said the need for a machine like the Lodox became apparent to her in February 2016 following a mass shooting in Kalamazoo County that left six people dead. Then, in June 2016, five bicyclists were killed in Kalamazoo Township when a driver plowed his truck into the group.
In the midst of those cases, Dr. deJong said the death investigations were hindered by the time it took to complete the full-body X-rays of each victim.
“In these mass-fatality events, which unfortunately we are seeing more of, the Lodox significantly expedites the process and allows us to release the decedents to funeral homes and their loved ones more quickly,” Dr. deJong said.
Dr. deJong said the X-rays from the Lodox are being used to identify trauma in death investigations and the scanner also is beneficial in helping to positively identify decedents. She said, though, that she and her staff of deputy medical examiners are “finding that we end up using the Lodox in ways that we weren’t anticipating.”
For example, in cases of drug and opioid overdoses, pathologists have identified needles that were in the pockets of decedents after examining a full body X-ray from the Lodox scanner.
“It’s used almost daily, but not in every death investigation,” Dr. deJong said. “On a day-to-day basis, though, the full-body X-rays are done more regularly because the scans can be done so much more efficiently.”
Additionally, Dr. deJong said the Lodox scanner is enhancing education for students at WMed. She said the scanner is being used to obtain full body scans of donors to the medical school’s Body Donation Program, which are then being used by professors in the departments of Biomedical Sciences and Pathology during their instruction and interactions with students.