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Beacon performs treatment that dramatically improves quality of life for stroke patients

A recent article published in the New York Times highlights a revolutionary stroke treatment that is creating better outcomes for patients. This treatment, which is expected to save millions of lives and improve the livelihoods of stroke victims around the world, and has been offered right here at Beacon Health System for the past decade.

The Beacon Stroke Team is using this minimally invasive treatment called endovascular thrombectomy, or EVT, to improve functional status in patients who have had an acute ischemic stroke. EVT removes blood clots and helps restore blood flow to the brain and limit irreversible injury.

Memorial Hospital became the first Advanced Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center in the state of Indiana by The Joint Commission in 2019.  Both Elkhart General Hospital and Memorial Hospital have advanced stroke certifications by The Joint Commission, but Memorial is the only hospital within a 70-mile radius to perform the procedure.

EVT can help patients with ischemic stroke, a potentially life-threatening situation that happens when a blood clot blocks oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain. During this treatment, the surgeon feeds a flexible tube catheter to the blockage to open up the large blood vessel or artery. Then, a wire-cage device called a stent retriever is used to capture and remove the clot.

Thrombectomy dramatically decreases the risk of disability from stroke when it is performed quickly enough. This treatment can be offered up to 24 hours after the onset of symptoms; however, the sooner it is performed the better chance of a favorable outcome, says Dr. Michael Hall, Beacon Medical Group vascular and neuroendovascular interventional radiologist.

Members of the Beacon Stroke Team actually meet the ischemic stroke patient at the door. After a neurological exam and diagnostic CT scan, the patient heads to surgery. This fast-paced series of steps is necessary to give the patient the best possible outcome. Brain cell damage can occur quickly when normal blood flow is disrupted.

The NYT article states that roughly 60,000 thrombectomies are performed each year in the U.S., but the number of Americans who could benefit from EVT, “one of the most important medical innovations of the past decade,” is at least twice that number. Globally, an estimated 1.7 million people have an ischemic stroke each year, but only about 240,000 thrombectomies are performed, the article states.

The challenge is educating and training the community at large about stroke and the importance of time in seeking medical care, says Dr. Jose Luis Lopez, Medical Director, Beacon Stroke Program. EVT has been shown to be most effective when performed within six hours from the onset of stroke, and in those patients who first receive a clot-busting medicine through a vein.

Dr. Jose Luis Lopez

“The successful outcomes of providing this treatment on a larger scale to more people would positively affect the quality of life for stroke survivors and lessen the effects on caregivers and families to manage the many changes to daily routines in providing rehabilitative stroke care,” Dr. Lopez says. “However, in order for our future patients to reap the benefits of this amazing form of acute stroke treatment, we need to help our communities recognize stroke and respond immediately, keeping patients eligible for these time-sensitive therapies.”

Dr. Lopez and the Beacon Stroke Team have worked with local EMS providers in field assessment stroke triage. This stroke preparedness training helps paramedics be able to identify a stroke patient who likely has a clot in the brain that could potentially be removed and to transport that patient to our thrombectomy-capable stroke center.

But just as important is community education on the importance of calling for help as quickly as possible if you or a loved one is showing possible signs of stroke. Dr. Lopez described how the loss of brain cells during stroke can be compared to accelerated aging at a median of 1.5 weeks per minute of interrupted blood flow.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, when heart and healthcare organizations make an effort to raise awareness about stroke and its symptoms. “Be Fast” helps identify someone who might be having a stroke: B-alance difficulty, E-yesight changes, F-acial drooping, A-rm weakness, S-peech difficulty, T-ime to call 911.

Dr. Lopez says more than half of stroke patients have some kind of mobility change, including problems with certain physical movements, because symptoms are not quickly recognized by the victim or those around them. “A significant reason that patients do not receive EVT is their delay in getting to the hospital,” says Dr. Lopez. “We need to continue to educate our communities in recognizing stroke symptoms because ‘time is brain.’”

Related resources:

  • Click here to learn much more about the Beacon Stroke Team and stroke care provided by our Beacon specialists.
  • Read the story about Bob Freeze, a Memorial Hospital stroke patient who underwent EVT and is back to living his best life. His wife of 59 years recognized the symptoms and immediately called for help.
  • What are the signs and symptoms of stroke? What preventive measures can I take to help prevent stroke? Click here to learn more from our clinical collaborator Mayo Clinic in our health library.