BASINGSTOKE hospital is at the forefront of the complex art of scanning hearts – thanks to a specialist consultant and some state-of-the-art equipment.

Consultant cardiologist Michaela Scheuermann-Freestone has helped to revolutionise the way patients are scanned at the hospital by successfully campaigning for the introduction of a £130,000 3D scanner.

Only a few of these machines are available in UK hospitals, and only a few select specialists are trained in using them.

The high-tech equipment means that live, clear pictures of the patient’s heart can be recorded – giving surgeons the clearest possible view of individual valves and the best indication of the ideal way to replace them.

The 3D transesophageal ultrasound method sees patients, under a general anaesthetic, swallow an ultrasound probe, which records images. From the gullet, medics can get a clear view of the beating heart in 3D.

Dr Scheuermann-Freestone said: “It is an incredible bit of equipment and the best way in which you can see the valves of the heart. I’m delighted that we are having one here at the trust – it is very exciting.”

The 3D imaging process is a step-up from the 2D imaging currently used at the hospital, but is just one that Dr Scheuermann-Freestone and her colleagues use, depending on the individual patient.

CT scans, which are best for initial investigations, are used by the consultant at the trust’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital, in Winchester.

A dye is injected into the bloodstream of the patient and a CT machine scans the heart as the blood flows through it. This allows medics to see how the blood is passing through the heart and whether it is restricted or flowing the wrong way.

Dr Scheuermann-Freestone said: “The beauty of it is that it is elegant and non-invasive.”

The consultant also uses an MRI machine to check on the way the muscles in the heart are functioning at both Basingstoke and Winchester hospitals.

A receiver – a big magnet – is put on the patient’s chest to amplify the signal to and from the heart, and Dr Scheuermann-Freestone uses specialist software installed in the scanner to closely observe the muscles in the heart.

To be trained in all these techniques is extremely rare.

Dr Scheuermann-Freestone said: “I find it absolutely fascinating – the heart is a very beautiful thing.

“These techniques make the surgeons job a lot easier, and it’s great that we are able offer these different options.”