medical examiner new X-ray machine

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

Thanks to a new X-ray scanner installed earlier this month, the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office will save hours working on individual cases.

The machine, from the South African company Lodox, can produce full-body images in a fraction of the time that it took Tom Hensley’s office to get the same view before.

This machine can produce full-body images in a fraction of the time that it took previous machines at the office of the Jackson County medical examiner.

Prior to the Lodox machine, said the chief of investigations and forensic operations for the Medical Examiner’s Office, technicians used two portable machines to take several images. 

“We would normally take head, chest and abdomen X-rays in standard cases, and that can take 30 to 45 minutes per case,” Hensley said. “If there’s other defects on the body, like in the legs, then you add those in, and you’ve got all these views.”

“This one does it from head to toe in 13 seconds to a minute.”

The half-million-dollar machine, which is becoming more prevalent but still isn’t common in examination offices around the country, was ordered in June last year and arrived just last month – made to order.

“We’ve always wanted one, but funding wasn’t available until last year,” Hensley said. “It’s not sitting on a shelf ready to go.”

Immediately, Hensley and his colleagues noticed the difference. One full scan does the work that used to require multiple scans, in addition to time to manipulate a body for different images – and all that before an autopsy could start. According to the county, more than 7,200 deaths were reported to the Medical Examiner’s Office in 2020, and examiners performed a complete autopsy on 812 of those cases.

“If you’ve three autopsies on the board to do in the morning, you’re looking at two to three hours just to do X-rays, which can really delay the start of an autopsy,” he said. “It really cuts down on the time. It will allow you to do more cases in a day, or do them quicker.”

The Lodox device also emits less radiation, but provides a more comprehensive image for investigators to locate injuries such as broken bones or foreign objects such as bullets or shrapnel. The technology initially was developed to prevent jewel theft by miners. The speed of work also can be beneficial if a mass-casualty trauma event occurs, Hensley said.

“The image quality is really good; it’s well-suited to catch foreign bodies,” he said, adding that such imagery can also help in body identification cases.

“It helps the doctor, the pathologist, know where they need to focus before they even lay a knife on them.”

The Medical Examiner’s Office had to renovate its exam room a bit to accommodate the permanent equipment – not quite $90,000 worth of work, Hensley said – and an additional backup generator will be installed later, but fortunately the existing space was large enough to work.

“It’s really great for the county and the taxpayers, and for the doctors when they go to court” as witnesses, Hensley said. “The portable ones will still have a use, but this takes it to another level.”

“It’s going to make use of our time a lot more efficient.”