By Charly SHELTON
When people suffer a stroke, their brain is deprived of oxygen. That’s how a stroke occurs – the blood vessels either become blocked, stopping or restricting blood flow to the brain, or the blood vessel bursts and deprives the brain of blood. As a result the brain slows and shuts down from lack of oxygen. But it doesn’t happen all at once. If caught and treated early enough, the brain can remain functional and recuperate.
“Minutes matter when it comes to treating strokes,” stated Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn.
It is with this in mind that this week, in an unprecedented turn of events, a new Mobile Stroke Unit has been granted joint public-private funding to operate in the LA area. There are 14 other MSU programs operating in cities across the country, but they are all privately funded through philanthropic efforts. This is the first MSU to receive governmental funds as it was granted $1.46 million last week by the LA County Board of Supervisors to expand the planned pilot program. The MSU will cover a 10-mile radius around Westwood and San Pedro for the first few months as adjustments are made to maximize the cost effectiveness and the medical effectiveness. Anyone in that area who calls in for an ambulance for a stroke will be met with doctors and emergency medical technicians in a specially equipped mobile unit to examine and treat both kinds of stroke.
“We will be giving standard of care treatments which the patient would receive at the emergency department, but the novelty is in the fact that these treatments are given at the location where the patient first experienced stroke symptoms, without delay. In doing so, we will be able to deliver treatment 30-60 minutes earlier than in conventional ED care,” said Dr. May Nour, vascular and interventional neurologist at UCLA and the medical director of the UCLA Mobile Stroke Rescue Program. “This is powerful in the fact that ‘time is brain’ and the earlier the treatment the better the clinical outcome.”
The MSU is a collaboration between UCLA Medical and LA Emergency Medical Services and will run in a demonstration phase from now until about September when it is hoped to go live for clinical operations. Upon success of this first MSU, Dr. Nour hopes to get additional funding for more units to be able to cover all of Los Angeles.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support of Arline and Henry Gluck who had the vision to philanthropically support this worthwhile medical service and to District 4 Supervisor Janice Hahn who championed this cause in LA County,” Dr. Nour said. “The incredible special project funding granted by the County will allow the unit to operate every week for a total duration of 30 months and in multiple locations while we collect health care utilization and clinical outcome data. This funding will also allow for geospatial mapping of the best setting for what we anticipate will be four to seven mobile stroke units to be able to cover the entirety of LA County and all of its citizens.”
The signs of stroke are important to watch out for, whether to call for the MSU or an ambulance. Time is a big factor, so being aware of the symptoms is crucial. Generally, the signs are FAST – Face (drooping), Arm (weakness), Speech (difficulty), Time (to call 911). But they are not limited to these alone.
“Basically, if I have one thing to say to Los Angelenos, it is that if you have any sudden onset symptoms of problems with function – something that comes on suddenly or you went to sleep okay and woke up with debility – and problems in one side of the body including new weakness (in face, arm or leg), lack of sensation/numbness, inability to speak properly, sudden double vision and room spinning, sudden change in vision – these can all be signs of stroke,” Dr. Nour said. “Calling 911 is crucial because there are medications that we can give patients including clot busting medications which can only be given in a small time window. Early treatment of stroke is key to prevent irreversible injury.”