GPS-type system can map heart, reduce exposure to radiation

Matthew Clements, supervisor of catheterization laboratory operations at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, prepares the lab for a procedure.

Imagine a GPS-type system that maps the heart.

That’s the technology that heart surgeons are increasingly using to navigate the heart and its chambers, reducing radiation from X-rays in the process.

The specially designed tools and catheters equipped with tiny sensors navigate within the heart through a low-powered electromagnetic field. The system enables a surgeon in real time to see a 3-D image on a prerecorded rapid series of X-ray images called fluoroscopy.

Automatic adjustments are made to the images to compensate for changing heart rhythms, breathing and patient movement. But the prerecorded images, coupled with the technology, help reduce the number of new X-rays needed, thus cutting back on radiation exposure, which can cause cancer.

Nicklaus Children’s Hospital recently finished its cardiac catheterization lab and began using the MediGuide technology last month, doing about three procedures a week.


“The amount of time the technique does not necessarily change, but it’s more about decreasing the radiation,” said Dr. John F. Rhodes Jr., medical director of pediatric cardiology services and the adult congenital heart program at Nicklaus. “There are procedures that may take about 30 minutes to complete, but others can take up to six hours. That’s a lot of radiation. But if you can reduce the radiation to a child for six hours — that’s a massive reduction.”

The technology has been emerging since the 1990s and gained popularity two years ago, said Dr. Ming-Lon Young, director of pediatric cardiac electrophysiology at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. He’s been using a similar technology like the GPS mapping system since 2014.

Young said about 25 percent of his patients have used a GPS system to map the heart, with patients coming from across the spectrum.

In the procedure, a catheter is inserted through a vein in the leg, which then flows up toward the heart. There’s no cutting or suturing.

Patients usually can go home the next day, although they have to rest for two to three weeks before resuming regular activities. He said no matter what technology is used, the goal remains the same — to avoid exposing the patient and the medical team to radiation.

A couple of years ago, Young performed the procedure on a patient who was two months pregnant. He said he finished after 18 minutes and the patient went home. The baby is now a year old.

“We try to minimize the radiation as low as reasonably achievable. We try to limit the X-ray as much as we can with any procedure. It is a 3-D image, and that’s how we see it on our monitors,” Young said. “This disease is usually curable, and it’s easier to do when the patient is smaller — around 1 to 2 years old.”


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