Dallas doctor invents suit to shield against radiation

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on July 5, 2010 at 5:48 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 8 at 5:01 PM

DALLAS — Americans are exposed to record amounts of potentially dangerous radiation because of advances in medical imaging.

But what about the medical professionals? Many also face exposure during medical scans or image-guided surgeries.

Radiation lets doctors see inside the tiny heart vessels during an angiogram.

Many people don't know that during this procedure and other image-guided surgeries, doctors are also exposed to radiation.

Physicians are supposed to wear a lead apron during those procedures. It is back-breakingly heavy and doesn't cover the body completely.

Dr. Chet Rees of Baylor University Medical Center explained the operation of the apron. "There's a big armhole here, and radiation could come through here, so your whole head and face are exposed."

That's why the interventional radiologist invented what he calls the "zero gravity" suit. It looks like a space suit, but is really a thick lead gown, suspended from the ceiling of an operating room.

"It's much bigger and the lead is thicker, and it has an acrylic face shield which is actually impregnated with lead, so this is actually a shield, too, which shields your entire face," Dr. Rees said. 

Dr. Rees has already perfected several prototypes. "So far, the evidence is showing the dose is drastically reduced to us, the operator," he said. 

He hopes many hospitals will invest in his zero gravity suit — or other technology to protect physicians exposed to potentially dangerous amounts of radiation over a lifetime.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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