“I felt indestructible” The invisible impact of radiation

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Edward Diethrich

Interventional News recommends that readers watch Edward (Ted) Diethrich’s moving video that draws attention to the dangers of working with radiation. The video (below) follows the renowned American cardiovascular surgeon’s journey in which he discovers that he has a brain tumour. Simultaneously fact-filled and moving, the viewer is drawn into the story of the talented young surgeon with superb skills and training who was an early adopter of the endovascular approach, which meant that he was chronically exposed to ionising radiation, despite the use of protective gear.

In one black and white early photograph from the video, we see the successful, seemingly invincible young surgeon that Dietrich once was. We also see the Arizona Heart Institute founder’s vulnerability when he discovers that he has a brain tumour for which he undergoes surgery and is then scheduled for further treatment. “At that moment it struck me that I would never be that cardiovascular surgeon again…” he says.

“I have no question in my mind that my carotid artery which had a very, very dense calcific plaque was related to excessive radiation [exposure]. I have already had bilateral lens implants in both eyes, and there is unequivocal evidence that radiation is a major cause of cataracts. I am highly suspicious that that little 8mm brain tumour, the oligodendroglioma, is [a result of] the same radiation exposure,” Diethrich states in the video.

“When we started doing those procedures, nobody questioned what we did. The last thing I was thinking about was how much radiation I was exposing my body to. Yes, I put on the lead aprons, but you can imagine if you have a lead apron on your shoulders for hours at a time, that it creates a lot of muscle spasms, tension and so forth. Being a doctor, my whole motive was to help the patient and to get the patient well; I did not think about the hazardous conditions. […] I am a kind of living example of excessive radiation and what it can do to tissue. I think I felt that this radiation cannot hurt me. I felt indestructible, I did not know what I was talking about, did I?” Diethrich adds.

The video further emphasises that interventional fluoroscopy is currently used in over 10 million procedures worldwide, exposing interventionalists to radiation in each procedure.

The video is produced by Trillium Studios and is a copyright of the Organization for Occupational Radiation Safety in Interventional Fluoroscopy (ORSIF). ORSIF was formed to raise awareness of the health risks of occupational ionising radiation exposures and associated musculoskeletal risks occurring in interventional fluoroscopy laboratories.