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Cardio-Oncology in Action

Retiree Lee Stoudt benefits from teamwork between heart and cancer doctors

Cancer treatment isn’t always kind to your heart, so Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) started a program eight years ago to help protect people with cancer from developing heart problems or worsening existing heart issues.

Bethlehem retiree Lee Stoudt is one of about 1,000 patients who’ve been part of that effort – LVHN’s Cardio-Oncology Program – and the 80-year-old is proof this kind of medical collaboration is invaluable.

Stoudt, a former Bethlehem Steel surveyor who worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in various roles before retiring, had long been a patient of cardiologist Deborah Sundlof, DO, Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, to manage his atrial fibrillation (AFib) and high blood pressure.

Collaboration begins

When Stoudt was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2021, Dr. Sundlof and Stoudt’s Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute hematologist oncologist, Ahmed Nadeem, DO, began collaborating on his care. Together, Dr. Sundlof and Dr. Nadeem are making sure Stoudt’s cancer medicine isn’t harming his heart and vascular system.

“People don’t realize the overlap between cancer and the heart. Our program does a great job in helping make sure cancer patients protect their hearts.” – Deborah Sundlof, DO

Certain cancer treatments can cause cardiotoxicity, a condition that can weaken heart muscle, raise blood pressure, or cause the heart to beat out of sync, a condition known as arrhythmia. Heart specialists in the cardio-oncology program assess a patient’s heart health risk and work with the patient’s oncologist to develop a personalized treatment plan. The goal is to minimize or prevent heart-related problems due to cancer treatments.

Stoudt’s cancer has been in remission since March, though he’ll remain on the lowest dose of his cancer medication for at least another 1½ years.

One side effect of Stoudt’s cancer medication is shortness of breath, a symptom Stoudt says has decreased as doctors reduced his dosage. The medication also reduced Stoudt’s platelet count, so both doctors are monitoring him there, too. Platelets are the part of your blood whose primary job is to prevent and stop bleeding.

Because of his AFib, Stoudt was already on a powerful blood thinner to guard against blood clots and stroke. A platelet count that goes too low would pose a risk of internal bleeding, explains Dr. Sundlof. Dr. Nadeem says one of the outcomes of collaboration in Stoudt’s case was to change his blood thinner medication to be more compatible with his cancer treatment.

“It’s a balance,” says Dr. Sundlof. “We don’t want the cancer patient of today to also become the heart patient of tomorrow.”

Dr. Nadeem says the collaboration enabled by the Cardio-Oncology Program benefits cancer patients in many ways, including getting timely cardiology feedback. “In our network, this is an influential program,” Dr. Nadeem says. “It’s really helpful.”

Program’s visibility growing

Before his cancer diagnosis, Stoudt says he was unaware of the field of cardio-oncology, or that there could be a potentially harmful interaction between cancer drugs and the heart. “It paid off,” Stoudt says of his involvement in the program. “They worked on it together. It’s really good to know you have two people looking out for you.”

Dr. Sundlof says many older patients already have some type of heart issue. “In our program, cardiologists and oncologists work together to help ensure the lowest risk possible.”

Dr. Sundlof, one of the co-directors of the Cardio-Oncology Program, says more oncologists are becoming aware of LVHN’s program and its gold-level center of excellence status from the International Cardio-Oncology Society (IC-OS). LVHN has one of only two IC-OS centers of excellence in Pennsylvania.

Did you know?

Just 38 hospitals or health systems in the world have gold-level center of excellence ratings from the IC-OS, including 27 in the U.S.

“People don’t realize the overlap between cancer and the heart,” says Dr. Sundlof. “Our program does a great job in helping make sure cancer patients protect their hearts.”

Every patient is unique from a cardiac and cancer standpoint, but Stoudt also stands out for a distinct, if not quirky reason. One of the lentigines (commonly called age spots or liver spots) on his arm is a perfect heart shape.

“I tell people I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he says with a laugh. Dr. Sundlof appreciates the connection to her profession. “It’s definitely a conversation starter,” Dr. Sundlof says. “It will always be an opportunity for Lee to spread the good word about cardio-oncology at LVHN.”

Anita Krick


At Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute our cardiologists work with your oncologist to minimize and prevent cancer treatment-related heart problems. Our Cardio-Oncology Program is recognized by the International Cardio-Oncology Society as a gold level Center of Excellence.

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