May is National Stroke Awareness Month. This year I was honored to be featured on the American Heart Association's Web site as a stroke survivor.
Since my story hit the Web site, I received a phone call from a former co-worker. We worked together years ago at a small television station when we were both starting our careers. As expected, we quickly went our separate ways. But, he called me because he saw my story. Turns out he now works for the American Heart Association. It was great to catch up and swap family photographs via email, but in my conversation with him, an interesting topic emerged.
As part of his job, he is working to get area hospitals in his state to offer treatment for acute ischemic stroke. It’s called a stroke center. Medical centers across the country are implementing these centers, which offer comprehensive care to stroke patients.
There are currently around 208 comprehensive stroke centers in the United States. The Brain Attack Coalition put out the recommendations for medical centers to become stroke centers back in 2000. It's surprising that while some states have many centers, others only have one or worst, none at all.
So, what exactly does it mean when a hospital or medical center is a “stroke center”? It means those facilities are trained and ready to treat a stroke, despite the severity.
The centers typically include an Acute Stroke Team. It includes a physician and at least one other healthcare provider. This team has experience diagnosing and treating cerebrovascular disease. Hospital-based stroke teams should be available around the clock, seven days a week to evaluate within 15 minutes any patient who may have suffered a stroke.
The emergency staff also has training in diagnosing and treating stroke. Sometimes it begins with EMS workers, who also have knowledge in diagnosing a stroke and getting their patients to these stroke centers first. The hospital also has all the tools in place to treat stroke patients, especially in those critical first few hours.
I read the results of a study conducted on hospitals in California to see if these specialized services and protocols made a difference. The results showed patients cared for at hospitals with a dedicated stroke service had significantly lower odds for death at 30 days. It also showed a reduced mortality was maintained through 365 days after admission.
I’m always talking to people about stroke. I typically end those conversations with time is of the essence. If you have stroke symptoms, get to the emergency department as soon as possible. Now, I think it’s important to add, go to the “correct” hospital, one that has a stroke center. I think it would be much more comforting to know that if you do have a stroke, you have somewhere to go, a place where you will be treated with the best care available.
Stroke centers: http://www.strokecenter.org/strokecenters.html