Stroke Care on Wheels: Canada’s first stroke ambulance is coming to Alberta.
Edmonton, Alberta, will soon have a new weapon in the fight against stroke and the sometimes devastating effects individuals are left with. Canada’s first stroke ambulance — complete with a CT scanner, clot-busting drugs and the potential to cure a stroke before the patient even reaches hospital — will soon be serving the population of Northern Alberta.
Its purpose is simple,” explains Dr. Ashfaq Shuaib, Director of the Stroke Program at the University of Alberta Hospital. “Rather than waiting for the patient to go to the stroke centre, we send the stroke centre out to the patient. Dr Shuaib goes on to say “We can scan the patient’s brain and start clot busting drugs right there in the ambulance. Reducing the door-to-treatment time is critical in saving the patient’s life and limiting their disability. The outcomes of stroke are devastating, but the advancements in treatment have come so far in the last few years, and even months. We have the opportunity to get that treatment into the community; to where patients are.”
About two million brain cells are lost each minute after a stroke. Losing brain cells isn’t the only challenge; doctors need to know what kind of stroke the patient has to provide life-saving care. An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain becomes blocked. About 80 out of 100 strokes are ischemic strokes. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.
The approved treatment for ischemic strokes is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a clot-busting drug that improves circulation to the part of the brain being deprived of blood flow. If tPA is given to a patient having a hemorrhagic stroke, the results can be deadly. And since the treatment window for stroke is counted in hours, doctors need to identify the type of stroke quickly — and definitively — to save critical brain cells.
In the new stroke ambulance, a radiology technologist will join the two paramedics that ride in a standard ambulance. A fully operational CT scanner will be mounted in the unit, which will also be equipped with audio and video equipment so the attending stroke neurologist at the University of Alberta Hospital will be able to see and speak to the patient in the ambulance.
If the stroke neurologist confirms the patient is suffering from an ischemic stroke, they will be given tPA in the ambulance. The goal of the stroke ambulance is to shorten the time between the onset of stroke and the delivery of clot-busting drugs — giving more individuals with stroke the chance to recover — and to live without life-changing deficits.
The stroke ambulance has been designed, will soon be built, and is expected to be in use by the fall of 2016. The total cost of the stroke ambulance — $3.3 million — will be funded by donors to the University Hospital Foundation.
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