Radiating The Heart Saves Patty Sweeney


LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate that is like a ticking time bomb. There are 350,000 sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. each year and of those, about half are caused by arrhythmias like ventricular tachycardia. Now, an out-of-the-box treatment is offering new hope to patients.

When Patty Sweeney developed an abnormally rapid heart rhythm, she knew something was wrong.

Sweeney said, “You could just feel like your heart was just pounding really hard, you know, like boom, boom, boom, like it was going to jump out of your chest.”

Sweeney has ventricular tachycardia, a dangerously fast heart rate often caused by scar tissue in the heart. When traditional treatments failed, she worried a heart attack was next.

“I was too young for that, you know? Just way too young for that,” Sweeney said.

Then she found cardiologist Phillip Cuculich, MD and radiation oncologist Cliff Robinson, MD, from Washington University in St. Louis.

“These patients are oftentimes looking for any level of help, any hope,” Dr. Cuculich said. (Read Full Interview)

The doctors are combining their expertise, shooting focused beams of radiation at the heart to destroy the scar tissue.

Dr. Robinson said, “This was definitely the first time that I had ever purposely radiated the heart.”

The first five patients in their study collectively had 6,500 ventricular tachycardia episodes in the three months before treatment. In the one year follow-up, that number dropped to four.

Dr. Robinson continued, “It’s almost this on/off switch where you go from having a problem to not having a problem and that flip, I think, is really impressive.”

It worked for Sweeney.

“I go to bed and sleep just fine now and I don’t lay there and worry,” Sweeney told Ivanhoe.

The doctors believe this treatment will change the landscape of how this condition is treated. Not only is this treatment noninvasive, but it’s also quick. The average length of time for the treatment is 14 minutes.

Contributors to this news report include: Stacie Overton Johnson, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Dave Harrison, Editor.

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REPORT:        MB #4436


BACKGROUND:  Heart arrhythmias are heart rhythm disorders that occur when the electrical impulses of the heart stop working correctly. Heart rates are regulated by these electrical impulses. An arrhythmia makes the heart beat either too fast or too slow. Ventricular tachycardia is a deadly type of arrhythmia. It makes the heart beat faster and out of sync with the upper chambers of the heart. The danger of this condition is that it may last for only a few seconds or for a longer amount of time. Because of this variation, the symptoms that it causes also vary.  They can range from none at all, to dizziness and chest pains, all the way to sudden cardiac arrest.

(Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ventricular-tachycardia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355138)


TREATMENT: Other treatments before radiation have existed to treat VT. One is called a catheter ablation. It is a long and invasive procedure. Doctors enter the body through catheters to the heart to find the scarring around the heart and cauterize the region of the heart that is causing the irregular heart rates. This treatment is used to decrease the number of ventricular attacks a patient suffers. This procedure decreases the amount of attacks by 50 to 80 percent depending on the patient. This is a widely used procedure with good results. It is also a very long procedure that can be very hard on patients that have suffered heart problems in the past. Catheter ablations are never a patient’s first option. It’s a procedure meant for patients that have suffered heart conditions in the past and tried other treatments first. There are also certain types of arrhythmias that will respond better to a catheter ablation.



STUDY: Phillip Cuculich, MD, a cardiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, says use of radiation as an alternative treatment came from the need to map the heart in a different way. The procedure is noninvasive and it targets very specific parts of the heart.  Five patients were treated in the study. This new procedure is faster than the original catheter ablation. The five patients had a quicker recovery time and looked well the day after the surgery took place. The study completed Phase I/ Phase II in 2017.  The next step is a multicenter trial that will begin after a follow up period with the patients. The results of the study so far have been positive. Arrhythmias have been observed to disappear almost immediately after the surgery has been performed.  The long term effects of the use of radiation are still unknown and being studied.

(Source: Phillip Cuculich, MD & https://cardiacrhythmnews.com/noninvasive-radioablation-vt/)



Diane Duke Williams, PR



If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.co


Doctor Q and A

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