Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

If My Survivorship Will Mean Anything… Part 3

What I am about to begin discussing is not conjecture, it is fact.  It is scientifically proven.  Only recently has medicine realized that closer follow-ups need to be made regular protocol to prevent damage not just from anthracyclenes, but any treatments.

In my time of treatment, there was not follow-ups other than bloodwork during my treatments.  If my counts were too low, the treatment was either reduced, or delayed.  But that was it, just bloodwork.  No other testing of any critical systems of my body.  And once I reached the magical 5 year mark, I basically vanished from the world of oncology until I was diagnosed with a “widowmaker” heart blockage caused by my treatments 18 years earlier.

At least in major cancer centers, today, patients are getting the “baseline” studies done prior to treatments, and depending on the drug being used, follow-up studies during treatments, and of course annual follow-ups following the conclusion of treatments.  And this is for life.  Finally, after realizing that Hodgkin’s survivors were living long enough to develop late effects, medicine finally had to learn how to not only recognize us, but how to treat us.  Sure, treatments have gotten better and a bit safer, but there is still a long way to go.

Now, I would like to introduce you to Bill Shirkey.  I got to meet Bill shortly after Michael had passed away.  Bill is the director of cardiodiagnostics and cardiac imaging at the Naples Community Hospital Heart Institute, associated with the Mayo Clinic.


I sat down with Bill to discuss the exciting and lifesaving technology that he has studied and uses to help prevent issues such as damage from cardiotoxicity from chemotherapy as well as other health issues.  I am also going to try and upload the video of demonstrations that he gave of the equipment used, and how it works.  If I cannot do it in this format, it will be uploaded to the “Paul’s Heart” Facebook page.

Paul:  What was the result of your studies?

Bill:  The development of a protocol for oncology patients receiving cardio-toxic chemotherapy drugs.

Paul:  Please describe the equipment you use and its accuracy.

Bill:  The Phillips EPIQ 7.  There is a high degree of sensitivity.  It is the top machine for this type of work on the market.

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Paul:  What are the benefits of this technology?

Bill:  We can predict cardiotoxicity in the early stages before there is permanent damage, and can help guide therapy modifications or changes.

Paul:  How soon can damage be recognized with this technology?

Bill:  A few months after therapy starts.  In some cases, as early as following the first dose in the case of anthracyclene drugs like Adriamycin.  The damage to the heart muscle can be seen as soon as the first or second treatment, and dealt with before the danage to the heart is too severe or permanent.

Paul:  While this is a definite benefit to current or new patients, is there a benefit for long term cancer survivors who are decades out in remission?

Bill:  Yes.  3D echo would give an accurate size and ejection fraction.  Strain would indicate myocardial performance.  It would help guide therapy if needed or establish if patient is clear cardiac-wise.

Paul:  Who else is using this technology?

Bill:  We are the only site in Naples using this technology.  Only some oncologists are aware of this technology.

Paul:  How expensive of a test is this?

Bill:  Generally around $1500-$2000 which is much better than the cost of medical intervention for severe heart damage.

Paul:  Are there any harmful effects of the test itself?  How long does it take?

Bill:  There are no harmful side effects of the test itself.  Baseline testing takes approximately 30-35 minutes with follow-up testing around 20 minutes.

(it should be noted, Bill actually demonstrated the machine for me on himself to show how it worked)

The videos of demonstrations and interviews cannot be uploaded on this blog.  I will post them on “Paul’s Heart” on Facebook so that you can see these for yourself.

Please, “share” this post.  With Adriamycin being used to treat not only Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but also breast cancer, this information and knowledge is crucial.


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