Training kids to master the MRI

'MR-I am Ready!' program at Wolfson Children's Hospital is free

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Getting an MRI can be scary and uncomfortable, especially if you're claustrophobic. While sedation is an option, there's growing concern about the effects of general anesthesia on the developing brains on children. Now there is a new program that can eliminate the risks by training kids to have drug-free MRI's.

If you have an MRI, these are the rules:

"I walk in the room, I go on the table, the table rises, I go in the machine, and I stay very still," said 7-year-old, master of the MRI, Christian Welch.

Christian knows that there's no wiggle room in a MRI machine, but he's a naturally a spontaneous roller.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists says children go under anesthesia about six million times a year in the United States. Still, Christian's mom didn't want to put him under.

"There are always risks with anesthesia," said Christian's mom, Melody Welch. "I'm a nurse and I know that very well."

The most feared risks are brain damage and death, but doctors say that almost never happens. Sedation-free scanning wipes out those risks. It also reduces wait times for scheduling, which means faster test results.

That's why Melody signed Christian up for Wolfson Children's Hospital's free, new MR-I am Ready! Program.

"It was an answer to a prayer," says Melody.

"Our strategy is just to help kids feel prepared and so in that way they feel in control. They know they're not going to be surprised by anything," explained Wolfson Children's Hospital's Child Life Specialist Laura Merriem McCalvin.

Armed with pictures and video, Laura introduces kids to the MRI—what it is, what it does and what it sounds like.

Laura asked Christian, "How loud is it again?" Christian replied, "It's really, really, really loud."

Next, kids practice lying still inside this play tunnel while listening to those loud sounds and thinking about what makes them happy.

"We plan what they're going to think about while they're in there, so they have a job to do," said Laura. "Their job is to hold still, and think about whatever they chose."

Melody says Christian thinks about, "Star Wars. You know they have great imaginations, so he just laid there very still and thought about a million things."

In the end, Christian was picture perfect.

"Easy," said Christian.

Christian was able to remain perfectly still for two hours!

If you would like to take part in the free training, you can call Laura Merriem McCalvin, CCLS at (904)202.8548.  You can also email her at

If you can't make it to Wolfson Children's Hospital for the training, you can review the MR-I Am Ready prep book.

Additional Information:

"MR-I AM READY!":  For many children and parents, going to the hospital can be an unsettling experience. The unfamiliar sights, sounds and people may reinforce a child's anxiety and add to their parents' concern.  At Wolfson Children's Hospital, the Child Life, Pediatric Radiology, and Pediatric Anesthesiology departments have joined together to take the scary out of one aspect of a visit to the hospital.

Wolfson Children's now offers the "MR–I Am Ready!" program for children scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The program is designed to help children ages 6-11 complete their MRIs without the need for sedation.

HOW THE "MR – I AM READY!" PROGRAM WORKS: The parent and child will come in one week prior to the actual MRI to meet with the child life specialist. The specialist will individually prepare the child for the MRI by showing pictures of everything he or she will see, explaining the sequence of events the child can expect when returning for the MRI, and teaching coping strategies.

BUT MY CHILD COULD NEVER BE STILL THAT LONG: Parents who are concerned that their child cannot have a successful MRI without sedation may be encouraged by the track record of the program. At Wolfson Children's, nearly all patients who have completed the training have gone on to have successful sedation-free MRIs. "MR – I Am Ready!" is a highly effective method of equipping children and parents to cope with what may seem like an intimidating experience. (Source:

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