YOUR HEALTH: A better life-saving “knife”

ATLANTA – Joe Garrett and his wife, Cindy, built this backyard sanctuary to unwind and bird watch.  Until recently, even that simple pastime was complicated.

"I would look up in the air and things didn't seem right," said Joe.   "So I would close my left eye."

His wife tried to help.

"I kept saying go get your eyes checked," remembered Cindy Garrett.   "Get 'em checked.  I think you need Lasik surgery again."

Instead, doctors discovered Joe had a brain tumor.  Surgery was not an option.  The tumor was benign, but was wrapped around his optic nerve.

"If it continued to grow it would cause blindness," explained Joe.  "It also affected other nerves.  I could lose facial control."

Doctor Shannon Kahn, a radiation oncologist at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta, says just one year ago, the most cutting-edge treatments available would not have worked on Joe.

"Patients who have tumors in areas like the brain stem or next to the nerves that control vision, they use to not be candidates for gamma knife, said Dr. Kahn a radiation oncologist.

The new Icon gamma knife allows technicians to deliver a focused, high dose of radiation.  The newly updated knife is even more accurate.

Doctors could treat Joe's tumor, without damaging his vision.

"Instead of doing his treatment over one session we divided it up over five, but he did extraordinarily well," explained Dr. Kahn.

Joe`s vision improved almost immediately.  While a portion of the tumor remains, doctors say it will be controlled for the rest of his life.

In addition to the higher degree of accuracy during treatment, the Icon gamma knife uses a mask, rather than a frame to track the patient's tumor.   A handful of research hospitals across the United States are using the Icon knife right now.

TREATMENT: When surgery cannot be conducted, there is another new option called Gamma Knife technology. Despite its name, Gamma Knife is not a knife at all. With a Gamma Knife procedure, there is no incision, no blood and virtually no pain. Gamma Knife refers to the name of the machine that is used to treat tumors. The Gamma Knife machine uses 201 targeted beams of radiation to destroy tumors with excellent precision. Healthy tissue surrounding tumors is spared. The procedure is so accurate that it is considered to be as good as surgery, or better. Radiation can be used as a stand-alone treatment, and often it is the only treatment needed. Doctors can also use radiation before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to stop the growth of remaining cancer cells.  (Source: http://radiationoncology.emory.edu/patients/treatments/gamma-knife.html)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.