When blood stops flowing to part of the brain because of a clot or a bleed, millions of brain cells begin to die within minutes. And while dead brain cells can’t regenerate, new protocols are helping people get treatment sooner and improving outcomes for stroke victims who receive care within 24 hours of first having symptoms. “There has been a big shift in stroke treatment in the past couple years,” says Phillip P. Amodeo, M.D., board-certified neurologist at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Neurology, and medical director for the Southeast Georgia Health System Stroke Program.
“It used to be that if you did not receive treatment within six hours of having a stroke, leading organizations like the American Stroke Association did not recommend treatment. Now, thanks to a groundbreaking study that has shown significantly improved outcomes when treatment is given within the first 24 hours, we have a much larger treatment window. That is making a huge difference for a lot of people.”
In fact, three times as many patients are now receiving treatment for strokes at the Health System because of the extended treatment window. Even so, too many people come in with stroke symptoms after it’s too late.
“It’s important to call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room as soon as you recognize possible stroke symptoms like numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body; facial droop; dizziness; loss of balance or coordination; or speech or vision problems,” says Amodeo.
Faster Treatment Can Save Millions of Brain Cells
The Health System is also putting procedures in place to treat patients more quickly. Nurses in the Emergency Care Center are trained to evaluate possible stroke patients so they can call Code Stroke, as are EMTs and fire departments so they can call Code Stroke in the field.
“The idea is to have the stroke team assembled and waiting for the patient so we can start treating them the minute they enter the hospital,” says Mohsen Akhlaghi, M.D., chief of Emergency Medicine, Brunswick Campus. “Nurses and technicians are drawing blood and prepping for a CT scan while the doctor evaluates the patient. The goal is to get the imaging done as quickly as possible so we can see what areas of the brain are being affected and come up with a treatment plan.”
The Health System also partners with Baptist Health in Jacksonville to deliver 24/7 lifesaving care to patients via videoconferencing technology within minutes after arriving at the hospital. Using secure video and data links, a neurologist at Baptist Health receives the CT scans and is able to give an expert diagnosis.
From there, some patients are immediately given a drug called tPA that helps break up clots and restore blood flow, while those whose treatment requires an endovascular thrombectomy or other surgical procedure are either flown or taken by ambulance to Jacksonville.
“We’re able to treat patients faster and achieve much better outcomes,” says Akhlaghi. “One man recently came to us more than six hours after having a stroke, unable to move his right hand. A few years ago, he would have completely lost the use of that hand, but we were able to locate the blockage and rush him to Jacksonville to get the clot removed. With a little physical therapy, he recovered fully, and was back to work within two weeks.”