(ORLANDO, Florida) – Radiation oncologists rarely, if ever, treat the heart. In fact, they try to avoid exposing the heart to x-ray beams at all costs. But a new treatment performed at Orlando Health, using precise radiation therapy, has successfully given time and quality of life back to heart patients who have few, if any, remaining treatment options.
Dewey Caldwell was the first patient to receive this experimental therapy at Orlando Health. Caldwell’s condition had deteriorated to a point that left him bedridden. He suffered more than two dozen heart attacks and, as his heart sustained more damage, there were fewer options to treat him.
“With each episode, he got weaker and when medications were no longer effective, he underwent an ablation procedure. But that really took a lot out of him, so when his ventricular tachycardia returned, he was deemed too high-risk to undergo another ablation,” said Roland Filart, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Orlando Health Heart and Vascular Institute. “That’s when I implanted a defibrillator to shock his heart when it fell out of rhythm, but it was going off quite often with very little exertion.”
Caldwell and his wife were planning to discontinue treatment when Dr. Filart approached them with a new option that uses cardiac mapping and extremely precise radiation to treat the exact part of the heart that is disrupting its electrical circuit with pinpoint accuracy down to the millimeter.
“We can use multiple different beam angles from all sorts of different directions to focus on any particular point in the body while avoiding sending x-rays through other parts that we don’t want to treat,” said Justin Rineer, MD, a radiation oncologist at Orlando Health Cancer Institute.
The concept is similar to a heart ablation, but completely non-invasive, making it a viable option for patients who are too weak or sick to undergo surgery. In the weeks that followed therapy, Caldwell’s energy increased and his defibrillator was deployed far less often, allowing him to spend quality time with his loved ones.
“I got on a plane and went to my 60th high school reunion, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do,” Caldwell said. “My doctors never gave up on me and found a treatment that never even existed, but has made all the difference for me.”
The treatment that Caldwell received is still experimental and is only approved for compassionate use and not as a first line treatment. It is an option made possible through extensive planning and collaboration to translate cardiac heart mapping technology to work with radiation software and equipment.