March 6, 2017 Update: While making Invisible Impact, we had a remarkable few days working with Dr. Ted Diethrich, the gregarious innovator and fearless doctor who pioneered minimally-invasive heart surgery. Ted wanted to warn his fellow doctors that the brain tumor which ended his career may have been caused by the x-rays he used every day in his work. He welcomed us into his home and life and worked hard to help us put his story on film. We could not have wished for more. Ted died a few days ago. We will miss him.
Dr. Edward Diethrich was already a highly-accomplished cardiovascular surgeon before moving to Arizona in 1971 to found the Arizona Heart Institute. It was there, that he became interested in the endovascular techniques that he believed would be “safer and...simpler” for patients. The problem was that he needed visual access to the areas of the heart where he would be working. Diethrich found the solution in Germany: x-ray-based fluoroscopy scanning. This technology allowed him and other doctors to be extremely accurate with stents, lowering the overall danger to patients. This is also why we were asked to make a film about Dr. Diethrich.
The mission of the new non-profit, Organization for Occupational Radiation Safety in Interventional Fluoroscopy (ORSIF), is to promote awareness for the dangers doctors and other medical staff are exposed to when practicing under high radiation levels for long periods of time. ORSIF asked us to make a film about Dr. Diethrich, his career, and how his health has been affected by a career spent in close proximity to a x-ray scanner.
Diethrich, now in his 80’s, has been treated for several severe problems, including a brain tumor, that were all likely caused by radiation exposure. In addition, he has had both hips and both knees replaced and is in continuing physical therapy for back problems caused by wearing a lead vest for several decades. Diethrich is still working to maintain his health and was eager to be involved in the film project.
Because this is still a somewhat-unknown problem and many people are surprised to learn about dangerous conditions for doctors within hospitals, our concept for the film was to introduce “Ted” getting an MRI scan and speaking with his doctor about the status of his brain tumor. Only later would we learn that this problem was one of the factors that forced Diethrich, the doctor, into retirement.
It was because of the deep respect that the medical community has for Dr. Diethrich that we were able to have extraordinary access to facilities, equipment, and experts. We filmed Dr. Diethrich in his Arizona medical community for a week, allowing us time to film several locations and interview Diethrich’s son Tad and his associate Dr. John Sutherland.