Harvard Contends Radiation Machine Mishap Impossible

Dr. Samuel Hellman, chairman of Joint Radiation Therapy for three Harvard-affiliated hospitals, said last night that the radio-therapy machine malfunction which killed a cancer out-patient at Tufts-New England Medical Center Monday "could not have happened here."

The machine, which had not been checked since May 1972, requires direct contact with the malignant areas of the patient's body.

Mrs. Hilda MacKenzie of Brockton was crushed to death when the "fail-safe" mechanism on the Theratron cobalt radio-therapy machine failed to operate. She died when the treatment platform on which she lay moved upwards against the machine.

No Radiation

At the time of the accident no radiation was being emitted, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday.


Hellman, who is also professor of Radiation Therapy at the Med School, said last night that the machines used at the Peter Bent Brigham, Deaconess and Children's hospitals do not require direct contact with the patient's body as does the Theratron machine.

He also said that the "fail-safe" mechanisms of machines employed at the Harvard-affiliated hospitals are doubly safe since they have a "dead man's switch" in addition to the usual "panic button."

Hellman said the machines are checked each day for radiation and mechanically checked every Wednesday afternoon.

Investigation Underway

An investigation, headed by George W. Curtis of the state medical examiner's office, is presently underway to investigate what Henry T. Wilson of the Tufts hospital public relations office termed a "freak and bizarre" occurrence. Wilson said that until the investigation is concluded, there can be no further comment from the medical center.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the manufacturers of the faulty machine and General Electric, its servicers, will join Curtis in his investigation.