HOUSTON (May 06, 2016)

Technological advancements and aggressive treatments have helped save lives and improve recovery times for patients suffering from strokes, but acute blockages to arteries in the brain continue to be one of the leading causes of death and serious, long-term disability in the United States.

That’s why Memorial Hermann Health System remains committed to combating strokes with some of the most sophisticated and groundbreaking treatments. As we observe National Stroke Month in May, Memorial Hermann is proud to announce another significant milestone in its decades-long quest to bring stroke innovation to its patients.

The stroke team at Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center (MNI) and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth recently implemented a dramatically effective stroke treatment that has been lauded as a stroke game-changer, according to published research findings. Performed by specially-trained endovascular interventionalists, the treatment uses a device called a stent retriever to thread through a network of tiny and narrow blood vessels to grab the deadly blood clots and remove them from the brain. Research shows that patients who qualify for this procedure and are treated with stent retrievers, in addition to standard treatment including the intravenously administered clot-busting agent tPA, have a much greater chance of functional independence following a stroke. The stent retriever is available only at select institutions across the United States, including those that are designated as Comprehensive Stroke Centers like MNI.

“Our utilization of this state-of-the-art thrombectomy device gives patients who have had a severe stroke their best chance for full recovery,” said Dr. P. Roc Chen, a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon at MNI and associate professor of neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School. “It’s the latest example of our dedication to investing in cutting-edge therapies that give patients better outcomes.”

Nearly three decades ago, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), then called Hermann Hospital, established the first Stroke Center in Houston, one of the first such-dedicated programs in the world and 10 years later, the Campus became one of the first hospitals in the nation to test tPA in a clinical trial that eventually changed stroke management.

In the years since, Memorial Hermann has continued its tradition of delivering high-quality care to help reverse the effects of stroke and reduce permanent disability. MNI, which treats more than 2,000 stroke patients each year, was the first stroke program in Texas to meet The Joint Commission’s rigorous standards for the highly coveted Comprehensive Stroke Center certification. The Institute is also home to the city’s first dedicated Stroke Unit and one of the nation’s largest and busiest Neuroscience Intensive Care Units.

In addition, Memorial Hermann-TMC, in partnership with McGovern Medical School, operates the nation’s first Mobile Stroke Unit, a specially equipped ambulance with a CT (computed tomography) scanner capable of providing pre-hospital stroke treatment. The unit allows the stroke unit team to quickly assess whether a patient is having a stroke caused by a blood clot and, if so, tPA can be administered immediately. That’s crucial because tPA, the first FDA-approved treatment for an ischemic stroke, must be given within three hours of the first signs of stroke, so every minute counts when it comes to stroke intervention.

More than 250 people per year have been treated using the Mobile Stroke Unit since it was introduced in 2014. The research team has been tracking patient outcomes and expects that those treated on the Mobile Stroke Unit will have fewer long-term disabilities, a better quality of life and lower overall healthcare costs. The team is gearing up to launch Phase II of the research trial, which includes a second unit and expanded hours of operation.

“The Mobile Stroke Unit has greatly added to the arsenal of resources at our fingertips to battle deadly and life-altering complications of strokes,” said James C. Grotta, M.D., the director of stroke research at the Clinical Institute for Research & Innovation at Memorial Hermann-TMC and director of the Mobile Stroke Unit consortium. “This innovative model of delivering acute stroke care has the potential for changing the way strokes are treated, not just in the Greater Houston area, but across the United States.”

Memorial Hermann’s stroke expertise extends beyond the Texas Medical Center throughout the Greater Houston area through the Mischer Neuroscience Associates outpatient clinics, where more than 90 affiliated neurosurgeons, pain management specialists and neurologists provide round-the-clock coverage to Houston and its outlying communities. Seven other Memorial Hermann hospitals have also been designated as Primary Stroke Centers, including Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital, Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital, and Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital.

Furthermore, the System’s interventions continue long after acute treatment, as expert staff at TIRR Memorial Hermann work to deliver comprehensive care to manage patients’ medical needs and provide individualized therapy sessions, group treatment and community outings to address patients’ functional abilities.

Strokes remain a major problem across the United States, claiming a new victim every 40 seconds and leading to one death every four minutes, according to the American Stroke Association. Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke every year.

Because strokes affect the brain, patients may not realize they are having a stroke. Symptoms are distinct and appear quickly. They include:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speechSudden trouble seeing in one or both eyesSudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination. Sudden severe headache with no known cause To a bystander, someone having a stroke may just look unaware or confused. Stroke victims have the best chance if someone around them recognizes the symptoms and gets help quickly. Memorial Hermann recommends F.A.S.T. as an acronym to remember the sudden signs of stroke:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty

Time to call 9-1-1.

Learn more about Memorial Hermann’s pioneering efforts in stroke treatment, and register to attend the upcoming 4th Annual Stomp Out Stroke Festival, hosted by McGovern Medical School and sponsored by MNI, to raise awareness and reduce stroke risk.