Van offers faster stroke diagnosis, treatment

Photo: Daria Kadovik/Cronkite NewsThe Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit, which cost about $1 million, is dispatched when Phoenix Fire has a possible stroke victim.

PHOENIX – Stroke victims who have only minutes to get treatment before their brains are permanently damaged are getting help faster through the eyes of cameras on a mobile stroke van, doctors at Barrow Neurological Institute said.

“The fact is, we know time is brain,” said Gabriel Gabriel, a registered nurse who oversees the unit. Guidelines say treatment within 60 minutes of a stroke are the best chance of recovery, and on-the-scene treatment in the mobile stroke unit leads to shorter hospital stays of one or two days, Gabriel said.

Stroke ranks No. 5 in causes of death in the U.S., killing nearly 133,000 people a year, according to the American Stroke Association website. The association says immediate treatment minimizes the long-term effects of a stroke and can even prevent death.

The emergency van operates within a 20-minute radius from Barrow, in central Phoenix. Phoenix Fire Department paramedics who arrive at the scene of a potential stroke victim call the van, which carries medical workers, supplies and equipment – and it’s loaded with two cameras that can zoom in so closely they see a patient’s pupils. Doctors at the hospital can see the patient, assess the person’s condition and authorize treatment.

Barrow medical representatives, who spoke to media attending a field trip from Health Journalism 2018, said it provides faster stroke diagnosis and treatment. The institute also presented other technology, including a 3D printing of spines that doctors use to practice surgical techniques.

The stroke unit, which cost about $1 million, also is equipped with a portable head CT scanner and a small laboratory so the physician at the hospital can assess the situation and evaluate the patient, said Michael Waters, M.D., Ph.D., director of the stroke program.

The stroke team on the van includes nurses and CT specialists who treat a patient under the guidance of the doctor monitoring the scene from Barrow. Then, a patient is transported to the hospital in an ambulance – with lights flashing and sirens blaring, it can reach the hospital faster than the van.

Gabriel said there are only about 11 similar units in the world.

Students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University are reporting this week from Health Journalism 2018. Cronkite is home to Arizona PBS and students receive hands-on experiences working for Cronkite News, a multiplatform daily news operation.

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