URMC’s Novel Care for Rare Heart Condition Featured on Discovery Health Channel

Cardiologist, neurosurgeon use ‘medical superglue’ to destroy growing mass in woman’s heart

June 19, 2012

Cardiac sonographer Dale Martin, M.S., R.C.V.T., R.D.C.S., captures images of the mass in Jamie Arliss' heart.

The collaborative innovation of two University of Rochester Medical Centerspecialists who injected “medical superglue” into a rare mass in a young woman’s heart will be featured on the Discovery Fit & Health channel at 10 p.m. Monday, June 25.

The series premiere of “Diagnosis: Dead or Alive” shares the dramatic story of how an unlikely pairing of a neurosurgeon and cardiologist collaborated to destroy an arterio-venous malformation (AVM) the size of a golf ball in a Clyde woman’s heart. An AVM is a messy tangle of vessels that diverts blood away from the heart. In Jamie Arliss’ case, it was inoperable, resistant to common treatments and growing rapidly.

“This was an extraordinary tumor in the heart. So unusual, so rare that we couldn’t find any information about how to treat it anywhere in our extensive research,” said Christopher Cove, M.D., assistant director of the URMC Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories

Christopher Cove, M.D.

Arliss, a nurse, had repeatedly complained to her doctor about fatigue and being short of breath, but routine tests didn’t indicate a serious problem. Months later, while working in a medical office, she was learning to perform electrocardiograms and a colleague was practicing on Arliss. The results were alarming and additional diagnostic imaging tests showed a mass along the lateral wall of her heart

Doctors sent her to the URMC Heart and Vascular Center and cardiac surgeon H. Todd Massey, M.D., tried to biopsy the mass, concerned it was cancer. He identified it as an AVM and knew he couldn’t successfully remove it. Massey sent her to Cove for review and a non-surgical solution. 

After several failed attempts to shut down the mass, the team began discussing a heart transplant. 

Babak Jahromi, M.D., Ph.D.

It wasn’t until neurosurgeon Babak Jahromi, M.D., Ph.D., saw pictures of the AVM, which looked similar, but much larger than ones he treats in the brain, that a potential solution was available. Jahromi and Cove discussed a liquid embolization technique normally used for brain tumors to treat the cardiac mass. Arliss agreed to try it.

Slowly and cautiously, the URMC specialists injected Onyx, the “medical superglue,” into the tumor, shutting down the blood flow in the mass during the Dec. 9, 2010 procedure. It was the first time anyone had used liquid embolization to treat an AVM in the heart.

The Discovery Fit & Health Channel filmed for several days at URMC and at Arliss’ home in Wayne County. Producers interviewed Arliss and her family, as well as her medical team – Cove, Jahromi and Massey. The television program features re-enactments of her care and surgery. 

H. Todd Massey, M.D.

“We are very pleased with the results we’ve seen. The mass is now inert – or dead – and Jamie will have no long-term effects from this procedure,” Cove said. “She’s moved on and enjoys a good quality of life.”

The program will re-air at 1 a.m. Tuesday, June 26, and 1 p.m. Sunday, July 1.

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Leslie White
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