Radiation treatment to treat abnormal heart rhythms

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Doctors are firing beams of radiation directly at the heart hoping to get abnormal heart rhythms back in sync. When Patty Sweeney developed an abnormally rapid heart rhythm, she knew something was wrong. 

She explains, "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. 

Sweeney continues, "I was too young for that, you know? Just way too young for that."

Then she found Cardiologist Phillip Cuculich and Radiation Oncologist Cliff Robinson, both from Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. Cuculich says, "These patients are oftentimes looking for any level of help, any hope." 

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

Dr. Robinson adds, "This was definitely the first time that I had ever purposely radiated the heart." 

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

Dr. Robinson says, "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 Patty Sweeney. 

Sweeney says, "I go to bed and sleep just fine now and I don't lay there and worry."

The doctors believe this treatment will change the landscape of how this condition is treated. The average length of time for the non-invasive treatment is 14 minutes. 

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