Dr. Sriharsha Athreya came to Niagara Health to turn its Interventional Radiology (IR) Department into a hub of world-class patient care close to home.
Thanks to his efforts, support from Niagara Health and funding from Cancer Care Ontario in 2019, Niagara Health is home to one of a few IR programs in Ontario to provide specialized tumour treatment that requires minimal surgical intervention and recovery for patients.
Called image-guided tumour ablation, this low-risk, pinhole procedure done under conscious sedation is used to treat small tumours on the kidneys, lungs or liver by using a superfine probe to burn or freeze the cancerous cells. Patients are safely discharged from hospital the same day.
“This is evidence-based treatment for cancer tumours, especially small ones,” says Dr. Athreya, Head of Interventional Radiology and Oncology. “Previously, there were only a few centres in Ontario doing this: Toronto, Hamilton and London. Now we’re proud to say we’re offering this treatment locally.”
IR is a specialty of radiology the uses medical imaging, including CT scans, fluoroscopy, MRI and ultrasound, to guide minimally invasive surgical procedures that diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. IR procedures include biopsies, inserting picc lines, angioplasty or stents to unblock blood vessels, and treating cancers with tumour ablation or through chemo-embolization, which restricts a tumour’s blood supply.
Since Dr. Athreya’s arrival in 2017, the IR Department added other fellowship-trained interventional radiologists, diagnostic imaging nurses and medical radiation technologists. The team also created a streamlined system to manage appointments, including letting patients know ahead of time what to expect on the day of their procedure. This ensures appointments run on time and any cancellations are filled quickly to avoid backlogs.
Interventional radiologists are also now on call 24/7, eliminating the need to send patients to other hospitals after hours for IR treatments.
Patients like Fern Gow are grateful to have these services close to home. Gow chose tumour ablation rather than undergoing major surgery to have part of her right kidney removed after doctors found a small tumour there.
“The program is great for people like me who don’t want to have surgical intervention and prefer something less invasive,” Gow says. “I was really happy to have this done here in Niagara through a remarkably high-quality program by highly qualified professionals. If I had to go to Hamilton, it would have been more difficult.”
The work of Dr. Athreya and his team has touched nearly every program in the hospital. IR is key in the care of dialysis patients, as well. The department performs critical vascular surgeries and procedures, including angioplasties to keep arteries and veins of dialysis patients open when fistulas start to fail. These are “patient lifelines that allow dialysis to clean their blood,” says Dr. Danny Lagrotteria, Head of Service for Nephrology.
“They do a lot for vascular access to support dialysis care,” says Dr. Lagroterria. “Without them and the success of that program, we would have to send patients to Hamilton. The availability of IR here has done a lot to improve the quality of patients’ lives.”