In 2016, Dr. Sri Sundaram of the South Denver Cardiology Associates in Littleton became the first electrophysiologist in Colorado to do cardiac ablations without x-rays to treat Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib). This is groundbreaking because not only did Sundaram make the procedure safer for patients by eliminating the use of radiation, but he also made it more comfortable for surgeons, nurses and staff.
The American Heart Association describes A-Fib as a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), A-Fib is a common heart problem, impacting more than 6.1 million Americans each year.
However, while A-Fib is common, Sundaram said, “I’ve often said I would win a Noble Prize if I could tell you what causes it, because no one really understands it.”
Since regular medication usually doesn’t work, patients suffering from A-Fib go through a procedure known as cardiac ablation. During the procedure, physicians and patients are exposed to high radiation levels. Radiation exposure in one ablation is equivalent to a person getting 75 chest x-rays.
During ablation, doctors guide tubes through the groin and into the heart to scar tissue, working to get the heart to beat normally again.
In about 75 percent of the cases, the first procedure works. However, there are patients who need a second or third procedure, meaning even more radiation.
For doctors, to avoid being exposed to the high levels of radiation, they wear as much as 40 pounds of x-ray cloths. Sundaram said wearing that much equipment during multiple ablation procedures became a burden, causing orthopedic problems for not only himself but nurses and staff in the room during the procedure.
“With advancement in imaging technology, I believed there had to be a way to do this procedure without the radiation,” Sundaram said. “If you look at the amount of radiation commonly used during one of these procedures, it’s going to cause issues later. We are running cancer risks for the patient. I wanted to find a way to use less and less radiation. I wanted to find a way to use zero radiation.”
Embarking on this goal to use less radiation, Sundaram said it took about 13 months to get it perfected, using an ultrasound instead of x-rays.
“I went through steps during the procedures,” he explained. “I would start with one stage and say we are going to do this step without any radiation. Then, I would do another step without it. Over time, we got to a point where we are now doing non-radiation ablations.”
Not realizing what this breakthrough meant to some patients, Sundaram recalled a patient in his 20s suffering from A-Fib. He sought out Sundaram because he had already had cancer, and having to go through ablation with radiation was risky because he was susceptible to his cancer returning.
As Sundaram perfected the procedure, his initial thought is it would take longer, but as he continued doing them and got better, he said the end result was that an ablation went from taking more than two hours to just around 97 minutes.
When asked how he felt about being the first doctor in Colorado to create a method that is safer for patients and doctors and staff, Sundaram said its progress and that’s what matters.
Now, teaching doctors nationwide how to do the procedure, Sundaram said, “We all work together. If we see someone else who has a better idea that benefits our patients, you take it. In this case, we share it.”
Besides Sundaram, there are six cardiac electrophysiologists, or physicians specializing in the abnormal electric circuitry of the heart, at South Denver Cardiology Associates.
Learn more about South Denver Cardiology Associates and the South Denver Heart Center by visiting the website at https://www.southdenver.com/. Like us on Facebook and Subscribe to us on Youtube.
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