Quick Action Could Save Your Brain

With stroke, minutes count. Now a new CT scanner provides images more rapidly, speeding treatment.



EVERY YEAR MORE THAN 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke—it’s the fifth leading cause of death and the primary cause of adult disability. Doctors who treat stroke have an expression that reminds them of perhaps the most important aspect of the disease: “Time is brain.” The longer it takes to recognize that a stroke is occurring and to begin treatment, the more likely it is that brain tissue will be compromised.

“Every minute while you’re having a stroke, about 1.9 million brain cells die,” says Danielle Haskins, M.D., medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. Depending on where in the brain the stroke occurs, those cells may control speech, hearing, vision, movement, cognition or even such vital life functions as breathing and heartbeat. A proper diagnosis can allow stroke care providers to chart the most effective course of treatment. And the Medical Center recently acquired a new piece of diagnostic equipment to speed that process substantially.

The hospital’s new 256-slice computed tomography (CT) scanner can take many more “slices,” or images of the brain, than a traditional CT scanner—and take them much more quickly. “The faster we get the scan done, the faster we are able to treat the patient,” Dr. Haskins says. In addition, some types of CT scans require that a contrast dye be injected into the brain to make vessels within it visible. “With this new scanner we are able to use a lower dosage of the contrast dye and also less radiation,” she says.

The new scanner is just the latest in the offerings at the Comprehensive Stroke Center. As a state-designated and Joint Commission-certified advanced primary stroke center, explains Susan Quimby, stroke nurse practitioner and program director, “we have 24/7 coverage by a stroke team that consists of a neurologist, adult and pediatric neurosurgeons, a medical resident and a nurse. We can treat people with acute strokes with the clot-busting medication tPA [tissue plasminogen activator], and our neurosurgeons have the ability to treat strokes by directly removing the clot from blocked arteries.”

The center also offers telemedicine services for patients who need to be seen immediately by a neurologist far from the hospital. The physician can log into his or her home computer and “examine” the patient through the computer terminal in the treatment room. “The doctor can do a complete assessment of the patient with a medical resident, who is at the bedside,” Quimby says.

IS IT A STROKE? WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The Saint Barnabas Stroke Center is unique in its use of a Transition Discharge Center. That is a nurse practitioner-run clinic that sees all stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) patients one week after discharge from the hospital or a rehabilitation facility. “Being in the hospital can be overwhelming and confusing for patients and caregivers, so it is during this one-hour encounter with a nurse practitioner after discharge that they’re given complete education including a review of medications, test results, signs and symptoms of stroke, and patient-specific risk factors,” Quimby says. “That way we ensure appropriate follow-up. We are also expanding our transition program into the rehabs within the community—a nurse practitioner will see the patients while they are still admitted in rehab.”The center also offers a variety of services, education and outreach for stroke awareness to staff, patients and their families and the community. Says Dr. Haskins: “The Stroke Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center provides the highest level of care for stroke patients and their families in the region.”

Everyone should know the signs and symptoms of stroke, says Danielle Haskins, M.D., medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “The key to stroke is sudden onset,” she says. In particular, she means:

  • Sudden onset of weakness, usually on one side of the body.
  • Sudden onset of inability to speak or understand.
  • Sudden onset of numbness or tingling, usually on one side of the body.
  • Sudden onset of vision loss.
  • Sudden onset of confusion.One of the quickest and easiest ways to detect a stroke is to remember the acronym FAST. Look for these signs:
  • F is for Face: When you smile, one side of your face droops.
  • A is for Arm: One arm is weaker than the other.
  • S is for Speech: Your speech sounds slurred or you cannot get words out.
  • T is for Time, which is a reminder to call 911.

“If you or someone you are with is suddenly experiencing stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately and go to the nearest hospital,” says Susan Quimby, stroke nurse practitioner and program director at the center. “The faster someone experiencing stroke symptoms gets to the hospital, the more likely it is that treatment can reverse the stroke’s effects.”

For more information on the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, please call 973.322.5000 or visit rwjbh.org/sbmc.

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