When a clot restricts blood flow to the brain, critical neurons that control movement, speech and thinking start to die. During a stroke, every second counts.
“You can lose up to two million neurons per minute,” says Dr. Don Frei, a neurointerventional radiologist who sees patients at Sky Ridge Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center.
Fast treatment is critical to preserving brain function. The gold standard to treat most strokes is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), an intravenous medication that dissolves clots. To work effectively, medical personnel must administer tPA within 4.5 hours of stroke onset. “Most patients don’t get treatment fast enough,” says Dr. Frei.
A New Minimally Invasive Clot Removal Treatment
In March, Sky Ridge Medical Center became the first hospital in southeast Denver to offer a stroke treatment called endovascular thrombectomy (also known as intra-arterial or mechanical thrombectomy). During this minimally invasive procedure, a surgeon threads a catheter through a patient’s femoral artery to the blocked artery in the brain. The surgeon inserts devices into the catheter that pull or suction the clot from the artery.
Physicians typically have up to six hours after symptom onset to perform a thrombectomy. In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new device that gives surgeons more time — up to 24 hours — to perform endovascular thrombectomies after symptom onset. “This procedure is extremely effective in removing clots that are blocking large blood vessels,” says Dr. Frei. “With this new device, we now have a bigger window to help people.”
Treatment time at Sky Ridge Medical Center — from diagnostic testing to confirm a stroke to the completion of an endovascular thrombectomy — averages less than one hour, says Dr. Frei. “We can have a blocked artery open in less than 20 minutes with patients needing only light sedation,” he says.
Heed Stroke Symptoms
Strokes are the leading cause of disability in America and can occur at any age. Dr. Frei stresses the importance of calling 911 immediately at the first signs of stroke, such as facial drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulties.
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