During a stroke, a patient loses approximately 1.8 million brain cells every minute that blood flow is not restored. Time is crucial, and swift treatment is critical to how well a person recovers – whether they will be able to speak or use their arms or legs.

UCHealth ambulance with a EMT from mobile stroke treatment unit waving“Until now, we’ve had to wait until a patient arrives at the hospital to treat them. Now, our teams are able to actually examine a patient and start treatment before they even arrive at the emergency department,” said Dr. William Jones, medical director of stroke services for UCHealth.

UCHealth Memorial Hospital has made significant strides in advancing stroke treatment for patients in southern Colorado by offering around-the-clock comprehensive stroke care, which means patients with complex strokes no longer have to be airlifted to Denver for treatment. UCHealth also operates the Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit, one of only a few such emergency vehicles in the United States.

Comprehensive stroke care means that doctors use highly sophisticated imaging to look at the vessels in a patient’s brain, enabling the physicians to determine whether to advance a catheter to a clot caused by an ischemic stroke and use a suction device affixed to the catheter to extract it. The technique is similar to one that cardiologists use when placing a stent in the heart to open an artery. Once a clot is extracted, blood flow is restored to the brain, reducing the long-term deficits that can arise after a stroke.

Video monitor in ambulance by Intouch Health with another ambulance in backgroundEvaluating a patient in the field using telestroke equipment

The Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit enables a stroke-trained team to quickly evaluate a patient and administer blood clot-busting medication in the field rather than waiting for a patient to arrive at a hospital. Such swift treatment can be crucial to preserving brain function.

The Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit (MSTU) looks like an ambulance but is more like a specialized emergency department on wheels. The unit carries a CT scanner, a critical care-trained nurse, a CT tech, an EMS provider and telestroke equipment on board that allows for remote evaluation of the patient and review of the brain scan by a neurologist.

The MSTU is part of a national research study into the medical benefits for stroke treatments provided by the unit. It will split time between Colorado Springs and Aurora, “This is something that advances medicine in our community,’’ said Tamera Dunseth Rosenbaum, associate chief nursing officer for UCHealth Memorial Hospital. “This is an investment in our staff and in the community and that’s really why we are here, is to provide better outcomes for patients in our community.’’

The stroke treatment and research delivered by the MSTU is providing a foundation that may change the standard of care for stroke across the country and may result in improved quality of life for stroke patients for years to come. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of adult disability.

With the number of acute stroke patients coming to Memorial on the rise, the hospital has a new support group – Stroke Survivors Taking Aim at Recovery – for patients who have suffered a stroke.

Joi Towner, who suffered a stroke at age 33, is a member of the group. Once a week, she taps softly on a patient’s door at Memorial Hospital Central and asks if she can come in and tell her story.

Towner is not a formal kind of woman, but when she greets a patient who has just had a stroke, there is a reverence about her. She refers to patients as Sir or Miss, followed by their first name. “I’m just here to give you a little encouragement. Are you up for talking today or do you need a little more time. Can I share my story?’’

Though southern Colorado now has advanced stroke care, one of the key factors for limiting the deficits caused by stroke is to act F.A.S.T. if you suspect someone is having a stroke.

F – Facial drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the smile uneven or lopsided?

A – Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise their arms. Is one arm weaker or drifts downward?

S – Speech difficulty. Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “The sky is blue.’’

T – Time. Call 911 immediately and tell the 911 operator that you suspect the person is having a stroke. Remember, time matters.