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Radiologist Arm and Brodeur's Method Cuts Kids' Exposure to X-Rays by 80 Percent

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‘We have reduced radiation where it counts—with the little guy’

One of the reasons I’m not going to hurt you is that I’m magic,” Dr. Armand Brodeur reassures the tense little boy. Brodeur waves his hands and a ball materializes; the boy laughs. “Look,” Brodeur adds, “I have magic hands.”

That’s true on a number of counts. Brodeur, 57, belongs to the International Brotherhood of Magicians. But he is also the pediatric radiologist at St. Louis’ Cardinal Glennon Memorial Hospital for Children who has cut patient exposure to X-rays by up to 80 percent.

X-ray radiation—suspected of causing everything from sterility to cancer—threatens adults, too. But since radiation dosage is cumulative, Brodeur’s prime concern is to limit childhood exposure that might have lifelong consequences.

Investigating in 1976, Brodeur found that gadolinium oxysulfide, which is used to coat color TV screens, could cut down radiation from X-ray tubes without harming the quality of the image produced, far more than calcium tungstate, standard in X-ray apparatus for 76 years. “You can use one-fourth as much X-ray,” he found, “and get just as much light.”

Next, working with the 3M Company’s new high-speed films, he began tailoring the intensity of X-rays to the need in a “three-tier system.” As an example Brodeur cites a child with a broken arm: the first X-ray “tier” would be high-intensity, to provide sharp detail. On subsequent exams, performed just to check alignment of bones through a plaster cast, radiation can be reduced, and for follow-up exams, it can be brought down further. “There is no doubt,” says Brodeur, “that our new procedure is the direction radiology has got to go in.”

His work with X-rays has also involved Brodeur with battered children. Two years ago he introduced a technique to allow doctors to find previously undetectable tiny bone chips by producing great magnification of X-ray images without loss of detail. “The bones of a baby,” Brodeur says, “tell the story that the baby is too young, too sick or too scared to tell.”

HEW’s Bureau of Radiological Health issued a bulletin on Brodeur’s three-tier technique saying doctors should take advantage of the possibility of reduced radiation it offers. His methods are already taught in the St. Louis University medical school, where he is a professor. He took his M.D. there in 1947, having graduated summa cum laude from St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire. He was raised in Penacook, N.H., one of five children of a poor French Canadian couple; his dad was a flour mill worker, maintenance man and farmer. “We were the last people in town to get electricity,” Brodeur remembers. He and his wife of 32 years, Gloria, now live much more comfortably in Huntleigh, Mo. They have six children; son Gary is a pediatrician himself.

Brodeur is no apologist for the medical establishment; he hints that suppliers to the X-ray industry suppress discoveries to keep their products from becoming obsolete. But in a TV debate taped in St. Louis last August, Brodeur lashed out when Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, a Chicago pediatrician and columnist whose book criticizes the medical profession, claimed X-rays cause 4,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. “How did you arrive at 4,000 people?” he challenged Mendelsohn, who did not answer. “You don’t know the energy of one rad [a measure of absorbed radiation]. What you’re doing is offensive, reprehensible and wrong.” Those little patients back at Glennon would hardly have recognized their magical Dr. Brodeur.