History of Wake Radiology
by Albert M. Jenkins, MD, FACR
From its founding to current times, Wake Radiology has been known for leading the way, bringing our community the most advanced procedures medicine and technology can provide.
These include opening Raleigh’s first MRI and the area’s first private office PET·CT. Committed to women’s health, we established the area’s first center dedicated to women’s imaging, introduced breast MRI and breast-specific gamma imaging, and were the first to offer breast brachytherapy using the MammoSite® balloon. Wake Radiology Oncology Services was the Triangle’s first oncology practice to offer intensity modulated radiation therapy, and we are among the area’s few private practices to offer brachytherapy, the internal administration of radiation. We also are the first area group to provide fellowship-trained pediatric radiologists and a child-friendly outpatient pediatric imaging center.
I had the honor of being the first of the many radiologists in the practice known as Wake Radiology, now in operation for well over 55 years.
I came to Raleigh in January 1953 at the invitation of Thomas Worth, MD, whom I had known during my residency in Washington, DC. As the sole radiologist at Rex Hospital, he needed someone to help him for night calls and vacation. I visited the previous fall and was duly impressed with the annual fall symposium of the Raleigh Academy of Medicine and meeting Charles Bream, MD, associate professor of radiology at UNC’s North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. He encouraged me to consider Raleigh because the region was very educationally oriented and showed signs of good future development. I attended the annual North Carolina State-Duke football game (Duke won 60-0), and decided to come for a one-year trial. To pay my expenses during my first month, I pawned my dearly loved Exacta camera. Raleigh would now have four radiologists.
Our office, in the Bryan Building in Cameron Village, covered about 700 square feet and was equipped with one general-purpose diagnostic X-ray machine. Three X-ray technicians doubled as receptionists and secretaries, and we offered a wide range of diagnostic procedures. We saw perhaps seven to ten patients a day.
Wake Radiology began in 1953 as a small, general radiology office practice in the Bryan Building in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. Since then, it has expanded into a multi-location subspecialty practice employing more than 350 people.
Private office radiology practices were rare in North Carolina—most patients were sent to hospitals. To keep the doors open, I also provided services to the US Army Induction Center and the NC Prison Hospital and traveled to Franklin County Hospital in Louisburg several afternoons each week.
Raleigh was a fairly small community of about 65,000 residents, and I was surprised to find so many enjoyable events: symphony concerts, plays, sports, chess tournaments, and frequent radiology conferences at the nearby universities. At the end of the year, I said, “I think I’ll stay.”
Back then, three forms of radiant energy were utilized: X-ray for diagnostic purposes; X-ray for therapy; and radioactive isotopes. Within a few years, our practice acquired an X-ray therapy machine. It was used at that time for skin cancer, bursitis of the shoulder, and lots of things that we don’t do any more because we know better. Radiant energy was not really respected in terms of the complications it could cause. Once they realized that, they decided to utilize radiant energy for therapy only for malignant diseases. That’s where the science is today.
In 1958, I spent a month at Columbia Medical Center in New York learning about the use of diagnostic isotopes. You could take it as a pill. It was just developing after the war. They were using that to diagnose goiters or any sort of thyroid tumors, and they were treating with radioactive iodine all sorts of tumors of the thyroid.
It was an exciting time for radiology. The next thing that developed was ultrasound, which started out being used to evaluate the fetus in utero.
That was during the golden age after WW II, a very optimistic time. Our growing medical community was evolving. When Wake County built a new hospital, I applied to take charge of the radiology department. I met with the acting administrator, William Andrews, in a cold, unheated temporary office near the construction site and discussed the possibility. Since I had only limited experience in the management of such a department, I was reluctant to take on that responsibility unless I could find another radiologist with such experience. Fortunately, William H. Sprunt III, MD, agreed to join me.
The opening of the new hospital in 1961 brought a number of challenges. Wake County had built four 20-bed satellite hospitals in Wake Forest, Zebulon, Apex, and Fuquay, each with surgery and radiology departments. Even though the patient load was low, the time spent to maintain the private office, the hospital, the satellites, and the other consultant work was too taxing for just two radiologists. This situation was corrected when Dr. A. Donald Wolff, who had just completed his residency in radiology at UNC Chapel Hill, joined our partnership.
The new hospital’s X-ray machines, purchased before the radiologists were chosen, proved to be less than satisfactory, but we were able to convince the hospital administrator of the importance of replacing them. Soon, the latest in televised image amplified fluoroscopy X-ray machines was installed, and Wake Memorial County Hospital was on track to attract many more physicians to join its staff.
The future success that WakeMed now enjoys was primarily due to the physician staff that the hospital attracted, in large part thanks to the excellent caliber of the radiology department. Andrews, an outstanding hospital administrator, helped provide the needed equipment, and Bill Sprunt helped develop newly evolving radiology procedures that this new equipment made possible.
In 1964, Julius Green, MD, completed his residency at UNC Chapel Hill and joined our partnership. Things were indeed looking up, despite the more than 40 percent indigent patient load at the hospital, for which the radiologists provided care at no charge.
Then, in late 1964, a fire demolished the Cameron Village office. Amazingly, slightly over 100 days after the fire, in April 1965, our new office opened in the same location.
Our partnership had performed both diagnostic and therapeutic radiology, but now it became necessary to expand the diagnostic radiology department at the hospital. To find the space needed, we took out the existing therapy machines. It was decided from our meetings with the Rex Hospital group that Wake Memorial would concentrate on the newer procedures in diagnostic radiology, and Rex would expand their therapeutic facilities. We donated the therapy machine in our office to North Carolina State University, where Dr. Gregory used it to develop what became known as the “atomic peanut” because of mutations occurring in peanuts exposed to X-rays.
In 1968, Benjamin Meares, MD, from Duke joined us. He recently had returned from Vietnam, and he provided us with new insight about the war there.
Another radiologist from Duke, Leo Mazzocchi, MD, joined the group in 1970 to help with the growing hospital patient volume. This allowed Dr. Sprunt the time to pursue his increasing interest in the developing ultrasound capabilities.
In 1971, we incorporated as Wake Radiology PA, and the following year, we built our own building in North Hills on Merton Drive. That same year, Raymond Madry, MD, from UNC Chapel Hill, joined us.
By 1976, the CAT scanner was available, and we wanted to get one. Bill Andrews, the hospital administrator, quickly secured one for us. There was only one problem: None of our group had any training to use it. We could find only one applicant who had such training. As soon as Dr. Robert Cerwin, MD, finished his residency at Cornell Medical Center in New York, he came down. Our new scanner was much superior to the earlier model that he had used, and soon he was taking the scans produced at our hospital to show the staff in New York.
With the newly expanded X-ray department at the hospital came an even greater patient load. Dr. Sprunt developed the catheterization lab, and it rapidly came to be utilized both day and night. The emergency department also had been expanded, and the radiologists often found they were spending a great deal of time with emergency patients performing more and more CAT scans and angiography.
Our private office practice also continued to grow. I helped design a new office in Cary, which opened in 1977 and began a major expansion. To meet the challenges of increasing amounts of procedures being done, in the next several years we added three radiologists: Dale Shaw, MD, Robert Schaaf, MD, and Richard Max, MD, all from Duke University Medical School.
The field of magnetic resonance images was growing rapidly, and Wake Radiology soon acquired units at our North Hills office as well as at the hospital. In 1986, I retired from private practice and began a new chapter in my life as a volunteer in the new MRI department at Chapel Hill, where I did research. Magnetic resonance became my passion, and I have traveled the world meeting the pioneers of this specialty and visiting their departments.
The radiology department at WakeMed truly is the creation of Bill Sprunt, and it continues to flourish because of the excellent staff he was able to attract.
When I first came to Raleigh, I was hoping to find a not-too-big practice in a not-too-big town. With my partnership with Bill Sprunt, I felt confident that Raleigh would be my longtime home. Without a doubt, he is the person who had the greatest impact on my professional life. I could never have foreseen the tremendous changes that have occurred. It has been an honor to be part of this ever-expanding group, and I am proud of their tremendous growth and focus on patient care.
The Future’s Promise
What does the future of radiology hold? Stunning technological innovations that will allow incredibly detailed studies of the interior of the human body. Treatments that reach individual cells with astounding precision. Remarkable advancements made hand-in-hand with other specialties, among them cardiology and neurosurgery. In all of this, you’ll know us, just as we’ve been known for more than half a century, by our leadership.
Wake County Memorial Hospital (now WakeMed) opens. William Sprunt III, MD, joins Dr. Jenkins as the hospital’s consulting radiologists.
Wake Radiology Consultants, PA, is formed.
Cary office is established at 901 Kildaire Farm Road
Triangle’s first MSK service opens.
First MRI opens at Raleigh MRI
New offices open in Raleigh, Cary, Garner, Chapel Hill, and Apex.
Wake Radiology Oncology Services, Triangle’s first full-service outpatient radiation clinic, opens in Cary on Ashville Avenue. Wake Radiology Diagnostic Imaging office moves to Ashville Avenue in Cary.
Raleigh MRI adds second Siemens Avanto Magnatom short-bore 1.5T scanner offering service 7 days per week.
Comprehensive Breast Imaging Services, area’s first center dedicated to women’s imaging, opens. Interventional Services opens in Cary. New Breast MRI technology introduced.
The area’s only Breast Specific Gamma Imaging (BSGI) program is introduced. Wake Radiology is the first Triangle oncology practice to offer intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). Practice goes 100% digital, opens Corporate Data Center.
PET-CT Services, a joint venture with WakeMed, opens in Cary in November. Wake Radiology offices named Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence by the American College of Radiology (Cary, North Hills and Chapel Hill). WR Express Scheduling opens with 1 number to call for all office locations. Fax scheduling for referrals begins.
Wake Radiology Pediatric Services opens in September in WR West Raleigh office. Dr. Catherine Lerner, Dr. Laura Meyer, and Dr. Brent Townsend join our medical staff in July. Wake Radiology Wake Forest office opened on Rogers Road in March. Cary MRI opened in December with the latest Siemens Essenza Magnatom ultra-short bore 1.5T expanding services 6 days per week.
Dr. Jared B. Bowns and Dr. Danielle L. Wellman join our medical staff in July. WR Garner received its BICOE certification and began opening Saturdays in September. Wake Radiology Cary MRI opens in January. We ended our 26 year relationship with Johnston Memorial Hospital in May. We began a new partnership with Franklin Regional Hospital in June, with Joseph Melamed as Chief of Radiology. Wake Radiology Digital Mammography Wake Forest office opens on July 1 at the Shoppes of Heritage. Dr. Sendhil Cheran join our staff in August. Wakerad.com new site was launched in March.
Wake Radiology North Hills Breast Center opens in April. Wake Radiology Oncology Services is sold to Cancer Centers of NC. Wake Radiology Cary MRI begins to be open from 7 am to 8 pm on Saturdays. After 35 years of service, Bill Johnson retires as practice administrator for Wake Radiology in March. Margaret King is named Chief Operations Officer of Wake Radiology. WR Cary opens on Saturdays for Xray, CT, ultrasound, and digital mammography. Wake Radiology Women’s Imaging-Morrisville opens in November.