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Health Beat: Radiating the heart saves woman

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ST. LOUIS - When Patty Sweeney developed an abnormally rapid heart rhythm, she knew something was wrong.

"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 recalled.

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 Dr. Phillip Cuculich and Dr. Cliff Robinson at Washington University in St. Louis.

"These patients are oftentimes looking for any level of help, any hope," said Cuculich, a cardiologist.

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

"This was definitely the first time that I had ever purposely radiated the heart," said Robinson, a radiation oncologist.

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.

"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," Robinson continued.

It worked for Sweeney.

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

The doctors believe the treatment will change the landscape of how the condition is treated. Not only is the treatment noninvasive, but it's also quick. The average length of time for the treatment is 14 minutes.

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