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UW Comprehensive Stroke Center Uses new Technology to Save Lives

June 14, 2018

More than 140,000 people in the United States die from a stroke every year. It's also the leading cause of long-term severe disabilities — and it can happen to anyone.

Aaron Barnett, a stroke survivor, knows all too well. It happened to him during a yoga class on the Kitsap Peninsula.

“Halfway through class I started losing my balance,” remembers Barnett.

Luckily, his yoga instructor knew the signs of a stroke and called 9-1-1. Within three hours, Barnett was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center's comprehensive stroke center where a team of experts were ready and waiting.

Doctors performed a mechanical thrombectomy on Barnett to remove the clot causing his stroke.

“It's not open surgery, it's a procedure that is done through catheters. They go through the femoral artery in the groin and then they can snake the catheter all the way up into the blood vessels of the brain and try to pull out blood clots,” explains Dr. David Tirschwell, Director of U.W. Medicine’s Stroke Center.

With thrombectomy, once the catheter is in place, the stent is deployed, and blood flow is restored, in some cases providing immediate relief.

"Within minutes of the clot being removed, I had everything back," explains Barnett.

"Nothing more rewarding than taking somebody who's very weak on one side or having difficulty speaking and returning them to normal,” said Dr. Danial Hallam, a U.W. Medicine neuroradiologist at Harborview Medical Center.

Thrombectomy can have astounding results, but there are limits. It must be done quickly. Eligible patients must be treated within 6 hours after symptoms start.

“After six hours you have to meet more stringent set of criteria. Because if your stroke has gone too far, and really the damage is already permanent, opening up that blood vessel - even if you can't get it open - isn't going to help the patient and may even expose them to the risk of complications,” says Dr. Tirschwell.

Because timing is everything with a stroke, technology companies are actively developing tools to help with diagnosis. Viz Ai, a triage software tool was recently approved by the FDA. The software uses artificial intelligence to identify a stroke automatically then can send that information to a mobile device.

That's critical for patients who live far away from a level one stroke center, the only place a thrombectomy can be performed.

NBC News