Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital is now home to a larger-than-life “Scan-Castle” — a new $6 million beach-themed pediatric MRI scanner.

The scanner, which opened two weeks ago, is the same top-of-the-line model that the hospital has used for many years on both adult and child patients, but it is the first in Connecticut to be used only for children. The suite is visually appealing and child-friendly, looking like a giant sandcastle with a sandy seaside mural covering every wall. The scanner is the fastest and quietest model currently on the market, which makes the process more comfortable for children and reduces the need for anesthesia. Children often have to be sedated because they are unable to stay still during scans, but this model is able to take clear images even with movement from the patient.

“MRI scanning is becoming a more and more important part of pediatric healthcare,” chief of pediatric imaging at YNHH Rob Goodman said. “We could squeeze all the children into the old scanner which was shared with adults, but we believe that the children should get a dedicated scanner.”

The new MRI suite — which includes an intake room, an area where professionals help children relax before the scan, sedation and recovery areas and a reading room — cost $6 million to design and build. The entire project took roughly two years to finish. Goodman said that Yale-New Haven had to appeal to the state Department of Health in order to acquire the new MRI scanner. He added that convincing the state that the hospital needed a new piece of equipment and could not use the scanners they already had was a difficult process, but the state ultimately approved the proposal.

Several other hospitals in the nation have already established child-friendly MRI suites featuring circus or pirate themes. Other ideas were considered during the design process at YNHH, but the team ended up settling on a beach theme because they thought it would be easier on the eyes.

“What kid doesn’t love the beach?” asked director of medical imaging at YNHH Jeffrey Weinreb.

Children now come directly to the Children’s Hospital to receive an MRI scan, where they are met by a pediatric nurse. All the staff members are highly trained to care for children, so the children receive much better service in the suite, Goodman said. They are given a tour and an explanation of the scanner before the procedure, and parents watch the scan from beach chairs, while technicians watch through a window with lifeguard signs painted around it. After the scan is over, the children take home a beach ball or another beach-themed toy.

The new MRI Scan-Castle has been extremely well-received so far, Goodman said. He noted that children seem to be calm and relaxed and fewer require anesthesia. Parents have been reassured as well by the child-friendly suite design, which is a far cry from the radiology suites that previously served both adults and children.

According to Weinreb, upon entering the previously used MRI suites, parents used to get nervous — seeing so many very ill adult patients did not help to calm parents’ nerves.

A bonus feature of the new suite is a brand new set of Cinemavision goggles, which the hospital purchased for $70,000. The goggles allow claustrophobic children to relax by making them feel like they are in a movie theater rather than lying inside a large magnetic scanner. Children can choose a DVD from the hospital’s collection or even bring one from home. According to Maureen Perachio, MRI manager at YNHH, sometimes the movie lasts longer than the scan, and the children want to stay even longer in the MRI suite.

Currently, the scanner handles about 40 patients per week, but Yale-New Haven hopes to attract more patients in the area and eventually expand its operating hours. News of the scanner is currently spreading by word of mouth, especially through the oncology department, according to Goodman. He said that he would like to feature the Scan-Castle on I-95 billboards in the future.

MRI services at the Children’s Hospital are provided from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.