Radiating The Heart Saves Patty Sweeney

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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.

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.

For more information on this report, please contact:

Diane Duke Williams, PR
314-750-2318
williamsdia@wustl.edu
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