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Stroke Thrombectomy: A Revolution in Fighting Clots

Advance With MUSC Health
September 07, 2021
Dr. Jay Dolia is a neuroendovascular surgeon at MUSC.

When a stroke occurs, part of your brain shuts down, and so does a part of you. A blood clot can cause strokes to happen and blocks the blood flow to your brain. For each minute this is happening, you're permanently losing 1.9 million neurons. For each hour this blockage occurs, your brain ages by 3.6 years. If the clot is large enough, it could be fatal. This is why stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability. The most vital tool modern medicine has to fight stroke is a procedure called stroke thrombectomy. However, the race to stop the stroke starts by calling 911 and then depends on getting to the right hospital in time.

Why is stroke thrombectomy so important, and how is it different from other stroke procedures?

Thrombectomy is a revolutionary life-saving procedure for the treatment of strokes. It involves using a flexible tube with a tiny wire mesh cage on one end. It is then inserted into an artery near the patient's wrist or groin and carefully guided up through the body into the brain. The cage then closes around the clot, which is plucked out, allowing blood to flow freely again, instantly. If performed quickly, numerous research studies have proven a thrombectomy can significantly reduce the risk of death or disability from a stroke.

Before the availability of thrombectomy in 2015, the only treatment for patients suffering from an acute stroke was the "clot busting" drug called tPA, administered through an IV. tPA, however, is not likely to work on very large clots that block big arteries supplying the brain with blood and oxygen. These are the blockages that cause the most significant brain tissue damage and the worst outcomes for patients. Thrombectomy has since revolutionized treatment in these cases.

Is thrombectomy possible in every hospital?

Providing a world-class thrombectomy service is complex and requires a stroke Neurologist. Thrombectomy is proven to be an effective treatment option for stroke patients. These complex procedures and services have been implemented 24/7 in many large urban areas. However, the staffing and investment required for its implementation in rural areas is lagging significantly in comparison. My mission, and MUSC Health Florence Medical Center’s mission, is to reduce the disparity in thrombectomy access in rural areas beginning with the Pee Dee region. Every missed thrombectomy is a missed opportunity to help someone walk again, hold the ones they love, or even say - “I love you” using their own voice.

What is the best way to make thrombectomy services available to everyone in the Pee Dee?

The key to success is getting the patient to the right hospital with the right team fast. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke is crucial. Calling 911 initiates this vital process. Paramedics can quickly and accurately identify stroke patients and direct them to the nearest thrombectomy stroke center, which is the most efficient way to ensure we all have access to this life-saving treatment.

What makes thrombectomy such an exciting procedure?

Imagine you have in your possession the most powerful tool in the world. Now imagine the power of this tool will reduce disability more so than any other surgery in the world. It is more powerful than some chemotherapy treatments and five times as effective as similar treatments for heart attacks.

For me, the tool is Thrombectomy. It is the tool we have in our hands at MUSC Health Florence Medical Center to help return your family member back home. It has changed the game for stroke patients. It takes the prognosis from terrible to the prospect of a cure. The idea that someone can have a major stroke, recover and continue to lead an active and independent life afterward is a reality with this procedure. As an Interventional Neurologist, it’s my job to provide comprehensive care and practice individualized medicine for every one of my patients suffering from a stroke.

Dr. Jay Dolia is a neuroendovascular surgeon at MUSC Health – Neurology, in Florence. If you would like more information call (843) 669-0927, or visit MUSCHealth.org/florence.

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Keywords: Stroke