As a practicing interventional neuroradiologist, I’ve long been accustomed to the term “time is brain” when it comes to treating illnesses that affect the brain. This is especially the case when treating patients suffering from ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot forms and deprives the brain of oxygen. Until the clot is removed, up to 2 million brain cells die each minute, resulting in a loss of mobility and motor skills. Here in Arizona, nearly 82,000 people experienced stroke in 2010, resulting in more than $750 million in health-care costs.
But with the incredible scientific and medical advances we’ve had in recent years – and which we recognize during Brain Awareness Week — there is a way to ensure that severe stroke patients not only survive but thrive. Certain stroke survivors who receive what’s known as neuroendovascular surgery can retain the same quality of life they had before their stroke. A minimally invasive procedure, neuroendovascular surgery involves a neurointerventional surgeon accessing a stroke patient’s brain through a catheter to remove the blood clot responsible for causing the stroke. This type of surgery has been proven to be effective in treating certain ischemic stroke patients.
Nearly 87 percent of strokes are considered ischemic. The deadliest form of ischemic stroke is the result of a blood clot known as emergent large vessel occlusion (ELVO); and those who manage to survive this type of stroke are often left permanently disabled. But thanks to neuroendovascular surgery, we have the ability to treat stroke patients afflicted by ELVO and ensure their full recovery. Stroke patients who have undergone neuroendovascular surgery are at least twice as likely to return to an independent lifestyle within three months after their stroke than those who did not receive the treatment.
Despite this game-changing procedure, the majority of ELVO stroke patients who would benefit from neuroendovascular surgery are not reaching the hospitals that are best-equipped to remove their stroke-inducing blood clot. Consequently, 1-in-3 ELVO stroke patients become ineligible for neuroendovascular surgery due to delays related to hospital transfer — which could happen when a stroke patient is taken to the nearest hospital, instead of a neuroendovascular-ready facility that is best-equipped to treat them.
That is why I support the rule-making process underway at the Department of Health Services, which seeks to improve Arizona’s system of stroke care. Through the rule-making process, we can help ensure the proper triage of stroke patients by EMS before they are taken to the facility best equipped to treat them and ensure the best outcome.
During Brain Awareness Week and every week, I commend the great work being done by my colleagues and by our government officials to ensure that state laws and protocols are updated to match the incredible advancements we’ve had in medical sciences, and ensuring the patients not only survive, but thrive following a traumatic illness like stroke.