A Local Surgeon and Former Patient’s Gratitude for Life-Saving MRI Technology

Dr. Ralph Lapp shares his unique perspective as both a patient and physician.

A single goal has driven my work and long career as an orthopedic surgeon: I love to make people feel better. Though I am now technically retired, I still occasionally scrub in to assist in the operating rooms at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals.

Throughout my career, I have relied on MRI technology to help diagnose and treat many of my patients. I have watched this technology continue to evolve over the years, and I often marvel at how MRI has transformed medicine, and how it has better equipped my colleagues and me to help our patients. Now, I simply cannot imagine medicine without it.

Of course, I never expected to experience first-hand just how life-saving this imaging equipment is.

As I write this letter, it’s Men’s Health Week, and the occasion brings back memories of July 2018, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, I had no signs of illness—but a baseline blood test revealed I had a 2 in 3 chance of a higher prostate cancer risk.

Thankfully, I was referred to a renowned urologist, Dr. Iain McAuley, who performed a biopsy of my prostate. Out of a dozen samples, one came back showing a less aggressive cancer in my prostate. As a precaution, Dr. McAuley ordered an MRI scan. And there was the real story: the cancer was spreading.

Following the MRI and diagnosis, I underwent a radical prostatectomy, and I am so grateful to say that today—five years later—I am cancer-free and there is no sign of recurrence.

I am confident that MRI scan paved the way for the care that saved my life, and I will forever be grateful to Dr. McAuley for ordering the scan in the first place. Without it, there’s no telling how aggressively the cancer would have spread. Just over a year after my diagnosis, I lost a dear friend to prostate cancer, and I know it could have just as easily been me.

But my experience with MRI doesn’t end there.

In December 2021, just before Christmas, I was cycling the Lochside Trail (ironically, where I had won a time trial for my age group), when a delivery van came out of nowhere. I was hit badly, and my helmet was demolished.

I broke a rib, tore my rotator cuff, dislocated a disk in my spinal canal, and suffered a concussion. Once again, MRI played a key role in my diagnoses and treatment plan. This past January, Dr. Dave Salikan and Dr. Colin Landells repaired my shoulder. Without their care, and without MRI technology, I don’t know that I would have been able to bike or operate again.

I am just one person, and this is just one journey. But the fact is, Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals perform approximately 2,000 MRI scans every month on people from our community and across Vancouver Island. Some of these scans are routine, and some are emergent. Regardless of how someone finds themselves needing an MRI, there is no doubt that this technology saves lives.

When I was going through medical school years ago, patients like myself did not have good prognoses. New MRI technology and minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgeries have made an incredible difference. This technology is evolving all the time, and it is so important to ensure our hospitals, care teams, and patients will continue to benefit from MRI advancements like the current MRI upgrade for Victoria General Hospital.

MRI touches our friends, our neighbours, and our loved ones. I often think of my youngest daughter, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), and whose treatment plan is determined by MRI findings. Or my patients, whose diagnosis, surgery, and recovery is guided by MRI technology. And I think of my partner, Karen, who works as a nurse in our hospitals, and cares for many patients pre and post-MRI.

This May, I had the chance to recognize Dr. McAuley, at one of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s events. It meant so much, to thank a person who has made a profound impact in my life.

Now, I want to thank all of you who will support this important MRI upgrade. As both a physician and former patient, it never feels any less astonishing to know that 40% of the equipment in our hospitals is funded by donors. I hope you know that your generosity makes a difference in real people’s lives. It has certainly made a difference in mine.

Dr. Ralph Lapp
Orthopedic Surgeon, husband, father, cyclist, and community member