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Best Life: Cancer procedure saves heart patient’s life

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 7:43 AM CDT
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MIAMI (WMC) -- A routine procedure used to treat cancer patients has become a groundbreaking tool to save a heart patient’s life. Radiation is commonly used to shrink tumors, but in a procedure only done in a few centers around the world, doctors are finding out it can also be used to treat an irregular heartbeat.

Just months ago, Jose Garcia was critically ill. The 77-year-old’s irregular heartbeat kept him in and out of the hospital.

“He was too sick to undergo any type of invasive intervention,” said Mario Pascual, MD Electrophysiologist at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

So, doctors at Baptist Health in Miami decided to treat Garcia with a procedure that targets tumors in cancer patients. It’s called stereotactic radio ablation.

“Essentially, it is giving a very high dose of radiation therapy, in one treatment, very precisely, to the part of the heart which was causing his arrhythmia,” said Rupesh Rajesh Kotecha, MD Radiation Oncologist Baptist Health’s Miami Cancer Institute.

This illustration shows the moment the radiation was shot into Garcia’s heart. The procedure only took 20 minutes, but planning and coordinating took weeks.

“An electrophysiologist is involved, a general cardiologist, a cardiac imaging specialist, an advanced heart failure specialist,” said Pascual. “And then, you have to collaborate with a radiation oncologist on top of that.”

Weeks after his treatment, Garcia can wheel his wife of 52 years in with him to follow-up visits. He is looking forward to the future with his three kids and four beautiful grandchildren.

“It’s a big difference between the past and a treatment that is a half-hour. Unbelievable, unbelievable,” he said.

The Florida doctors consulted with experts at Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, who have previous experience using this technique in heart patients. Doctors at Baptist Health say more research needs to be done, but they are pleased with Garcia’s results.

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