By Abigail Chambers
Party City is not the only place where helium is essential; hospitals actually utilize the natural gas more than one may think. The current national helium shortage could not only be a threat to your balloon arches and event planning needs, but also to the doctors who rely on it for important medical practices.
Helium is commonly known as the thing that blows up balloons used for birthday parties, baby showers, gender reveals, and many more fun events for family and friends.What many people may not know is that helium is used in hospitals all around the world.
Helium’s contribution to the medical world can be seen through procedures like MRIs, which uses magnetic resonance imaging to generate pictures of a person’s organs in the body. Liquid helium is the element that powers an MRI diagnostic machine. With a helium shortage, doctors could be losing a necessary tool.
Brenna Krebbs, senior accounting major, is one of many who was unaware of helium’s multipurpose characteristic.
“I truly only ever knew helium to be used for blowing up balloons and keeping things floating. I had no idea doctors used it in their everyday work routines. I have had two MRI scans done in the past and was completely oblivious to the fact that helium was such an important factor in that exam,” said Krebbs. “It’s crazy that a helium shortage seems like such a small issue but is actually something that could harm the medical field and many patients.”
Helium is a nonrenewable natural gas that comes from down beneath the Earth’s crust. With the element running scarce, hospitals are troubled as an MRI can’t function without about 2,000 liters of ultra-cold liquid helium keeping its magnets cool enough to work, according to an article by NBC News.
Russia allegedly had a new facility that could supply a large amount of helium to the US, but that plan quickly diminished after the war in Ukraine stopped trade between the two countries for the most part.
“I did not even think that the war in the Ukraine could be linked to the national helium shortage,” said Caroline Diamond, senior design major. “It really makes you take a step back and think about how actions have real consequences. If MRI’s stop getting administered in hospitals, the entire healthcare industry could take a huge fall,”
With the national helium shortage, suppliers are minimizing the amount of helium they give to nonessential consumers and conserving most of it for healthcare workers.
According to Donna Craft, a regional construction manager for Premier Inc. who contracts with helium suppliers for about 4,000 hospitals, blowing up balloons at gift shops probably won’t be as common anymore.
Doctors and hospitals have not stopped administering MRI exams, however, the price of helium continues to increase.
Phil Kornbluth, president of Kornbluth Helium Consulting, estimated that helium costs will rise at an alarming rate, possibly up to 30%.
The future for MRI machines is uncertain as the helium shortage does not have an easy solution in sight.