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Utah man gets novel treatment for heart irregularity

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 10, 2023

Photo supplied, Intermountain Health

Shannon Brooks, right, poses with his wife in this family portrait. The Tooele man was the first in Utah to undergo a unique heart procedure to treat refractory ventricular tachycardia.

In a first for Utah, physicians at Intermountain Health employed a procedure typically used to treat cancer patients to cure a life-threatening, irregular heartbeat in a Tooele resident.

Stereotactic radiotherapy is used to treat refractory ventricular tachycardia when all other treatment options have failed. Doctors are hoping it will pave the way for other Utah heart patients to benefit from the unique procedure.

“This method of treatment allows us to use focal, high-dose radiation to treat refractory ventricular tachycardia with electrophysiology-guided targeting,” said Dr. Grant Hunter, an Intermountain Health radiation oncologist. “The radiation is able to target the region of the heart while being delivered in an outpatient setting.”

Hunter said for specifically selected patients who really have few options, this new procedure can be a game-changer.

“The chance to treat these high-risk patients with noninvasive treatment is a novel and exciting option,” he said.

Refractory ventricular tachycardia is a common, yet potentially life-threatening heart arrhythmia occurring in the organ’s lower chamber. The condition can happen in people with heart disease or heart failure and may lead to sudden cardiac death. There are several treatment options available, but not all of them work.

Shannon Brooks was one of those patients who needed the new procedure in order to survive.

Eighteen years ago at the age of 37, he had a heart attack. He was treated with cardiac catheter ablation therapy, which uses heat or cold energy to create tiny scars in the heart to block irregular electrical signals, to restore his heartbeat. The procedure was successful and he went about his life.

But last New Year’s Day, he went into cardiac arrest. His son performed CPR on him for seven minutes to save his life. He was admitted to Intermountain Medical in Murray, where it was discovered his treatment options were running out. He had the option to be placed on the national heart recipient transplant list, but before that happened, doctors asked him to consider stereotactic radiotherapy.

“It’s terrifying to be told Shannon’s in heart failure and that he needed to have a heart transplant,” said Brooks’ wife, Jen. “We would have had no other option but to live in the hospital and wait for his transplant.”

Hunter, along with Dr. Michael Cutler, an interventional cardiologist at the Intermountain Health Heart & Vascular Program, and Dr. Peter Hu, medical director of cardiac molecular imaging at Intermountain Medical Center, successfully performed the procedure.

“He had pretty significant heart failure and it would have been very high risk to put him under general anesthesia,” Cutler said. “But he came in, laid down on the table, had the procedure and stood up 15 minutes later and walked out.”

The procedure is performed in the radiation oncology clinic as an outpatient procedure at Intermountain Medical Center. The patient is awake and in an immobilization device while the radiation beam targets the area.

Brooks said the procedure made a huge difference. He said he’s looking forward to playing the guitar, playing with his grandchildren, visiting the shooting range with his son, attending concerts and celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary with his wife.

“I knew the doctors knew what they were doing. It was crazy to see how many were caring for me,” he said. “I’m thankful that my doctors cared for me. You could tell they work hard for all of their patients and care for them.”


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