Deteriorating heart patient thought he was out of options until new radiation therapy gave him hope

Radiation oncologists usually avoid the heart, but an experimental treatment gives patients with severe heart damage a new option

Image Downloads

(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.


(click to download)

Roland Filart, MD, speaks with heart patient Dewey Caldwell at the Orlando Health Heart and Vascular Institute. Caldwell’s condition had deteriorated to the point that treatment was no longer working when Dr. Filart presented an experimental treatment that uses precise radiation to treat advanced heart disease.

Radiation oncologists usually go out of their way to avoid the heart, but an experimental treatment at Orlando Health uses cardiac mapping and a precisely focused beam of radiation to non-invasively treat advanced heart disease in patients who have few treatment options left.

Dewey Caldwell wears a vest designed to precisely map the heart in preparation for an experimental therapy that uses targeted radiation therapy as an alternative to a heart ablation procedure, which is often too invasive for patients with advanced heart disease.

Dewey Caldwell spends time with his wife after undergoing an experimental treatment at Orlando Health that used radiation therapy to treat his advanced heart disease. Caldwell thought he was out of treatment options until the non-invasive procedure helped to increase his energy and gave him a better quality of life.

Luis Garcia, MD, performs a heart ablation at Orlando Health Heart and Vascular Institute. The procedure is effective in correcting arrhythmias by targeting tissue that disrupts the heart’s normal rhythm. However, not all patients are healthy enough to undergo the procedure and an experimental treatment uses radiation to achieve the same effect non-invasively.

Your file is downloading.