CT repair in rural Brazil:
No easy trip

Learn about a service technician who drove 1,300 km through the Amazon rainforest to repair a CT scanner. The journey was worth it.

Lena Stauber
Published on April 19, 2022

A defective CT system is always an inconvenience, especially during the pandemic. With the indispensable diagnostic device and the service technician 1,300 kilometers away, it could have been a disaster. David Murray, customer services engineer for Siemens Healthineers, took charge of the situation.  

It was early, shortly past 6 a.m. The weather was hot and muggy, already 25°C, with some light showers. Sounds saturated the forest – frogs croaking, birds shrieking, and animals scuttling across the ground. It was a typical day in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The first rays of sunlight already glinting through the green trees and plants, but the highway leading through the forest was still mostly dark.

David Murray was driving along the “soy highway”, one of the few roads to cut straight across the Amazon rainforest in Brazil as he worked his way north to Santarém. A critical job awaited him: He had to repair a computed tomography (CT) scanner – a device used to help make an initial diagnosis of potential COVID-19 patients. “A CT scan soon became the first diagnostic resource for COVID-19 for diagnosis, prognosis, and for monitoring the patients,” explains Nádia Alves, MD, Administrative Director of Centro de Diagnóstico Por Imagem Tapajós in Santarém. One day, the CT system broke down unexpectedly and they had to call the engineer for maintenance. It was most likely that an imaging tube had to be replaced. Generally, such jobs are no problem for Murray, but the hospital in Santarém is located more than 1,300 kilometers from his hometown of Belém.

During the pandemic, all flights were suspended in Brazil. River trips were banned as well. The only possible way to repair the CT scanner in Santarém was to use a 4x4 vehicle and make a two-day drive through the Amazon rainforest. “At first, we felt a little apprehensive because of the length of the trip and of the pandemic,” Murray says. But these challenges did not stop him. Together with his team, he figured out a route across the rainforest, a journey that wound through villages and over muddy roads. “We wanted to have the equipment up and running as soon as possible, because the CT equipment was one of the pillars for diagnosis during the pandemic, and several patients needed it. What’s more, the system was one of the few scanners in the region and served several nearby cities as well,” Murray recalls.

David Murray, customer service engineer for Siemens Healthineers in Belém, Brazil.

On the journey to the hospital, Murray and his colleague frequently saw no one for hours at a time. They were completely on their own. “We talked about all sorts of things, and I always thought about my family during the trip. We got to know each other even better. We also really got to know the state of Pará, in the north of Brazil. We discovered cities that we’d never thought of visiting. On a single trip, we passed by three hydroelectric plants and through a vast part of the Amazon rainforest,” Murray says.
The roads that they used were not always paved, and the two colleagues rarely had cell phone reception. “The main challenge was the route itself: It was long and difficult, filled with isolated areas. We faced our greatest challenge on a slippery dirt road between the cities of Altamira and Santarém. We had to be really patient and drive very carefully,” Murray says. Locations on the road south of Santarém are found not by signs or named roads but by their kilometer number. On the second day, as dawn gradually lit up the tinted windows of the car, the mist rose over the treetops as the Amazon canopy flew past and the streets became busier again. At sunrise, the team finally reached Santarém.

After two days of driving through heavy rain over slippery, flooded, and unpaved state roads through the rainforest, over unfinished bridges and dodging falling rocks from the paths flanking slopes, Murray and his colleague finally arrived at the hospital. “They arrived at the site at 8 o´clock and worked until the CT scanner was running again. They were very efficient,” says Nádia Alves. 

Value Partnerships are enduring, performance-oriented relationships. An innovative business models helps to increase enterprise-wide value in order to meet immediate and future goals.

“After we had fixed the scanner, I knew that I had done my duty. I thought of the many patients who were waiting to use the equipment and continue with their treatment. We felt that every effort dedicated to the service was rewarded,” David Murray recalls with a smile. Without a CT scanner at this point in the pandemic, many lives would have been lost.

Value Partnerships are enduring, performance-oriented relationships. An innovative business models helps to increase enterprise-wide value in order to meet immediate and future goals.

Nádia Valéria Berretta Moreira Alves, MD, Administrative Director in Centro de Diagnóstico Por Imagem Tapajós, Santarém, Brazil.

By Lena Stauber

Lena Stauber is an editor in corporate communications at Siemens Healthineers. The team specializes in topics related to healthcare, medical technology, disease areas, and digitalization.