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UNMH gains status as state’s first Comprehensive Stroke Center

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico Hospital is touting its new status as the state’s first Comprehensive Stroke Center, a designation that could make a big difference for stroke patients who have a narrow window to get help before suffering permanent damage.

That’s the highest designation from the Joint Commission, “the primary accrediting body that partners with the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association to certify centers in cardiac and stroke care,” UNMH neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew Carlson said on Wednesday.

The certification indicates that UNMH has the 24-7 capability to perform surgical procedures to repair aneurysms in the brain, or endovascular procedures inside blood vessels to remove blood clots.

For five years, UNMH has been using a multidisciplinary approach of neurologists, neurosurgeons, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other health care professionals to treat stroke patients as quickly as possible, said Torsten Rohde, director of UNMH’s Stroke and Heart Failure Programs.

UNMH must regularly document and report its treatments and outcomes, “which are checked and compared to other hospitals, so we are not just our own island here,” Rohde said.

Where a stroke is caused by a blockage, the window for successful treatment is three to four-and-a-half hours in which to administer the clot-dissolving medication TPA; where a stroke is caused by a brain bleed, such as from a leaking or burst aneurism, the window for successful treatment is six to 24 hours, depending on the severity of the bleed, Carlson said.

“Once a patient gets transferred in, it’s the expectation that we will get that patient from the door on to the table and have access to their blood vessels within one hour, which is a big challenge when we have to do all their assessments, their scans and move them across our whole hospital,” Carlson said.

People in the greater Albuquerque area who have symptoms of a severe stroke, Carlson said, “should come straight to our Comprehensive Stroke Center” to cut the time it takes to transfer a patient from one facility to another.

Other hospitals in the metro area, as well as throughout the state, are also important as primary stroke centers, where mild symptoms of a stroke can be imaged and evaluated.

UNMH has been coordinating with hospitals throughout New Mexico, as well as paramedics in the field, to recognize when a stroke patient is in need of more complicated medical attention so they can be more quickly transferred to UNMH, either by ambulance or helicopter, depending on the distance, Carlson said.

Nationwide, strokes are responsible for one in every six deaths, said Dr. Michel Torbey, chair of the UNM Department of Neurology. About 795,000 people experience a stroke each year in the U.S., and someone dies from a stroke about every four minutes.

Including treatment, medicine and missed days of work, the combined cost of stroke in the U.S. is about $46 billion a year, Torbey said.

The good news is “we have the ability to reverse the disease and treat these patients,” provided they get the proper medical intervention and get it quickly, Torbey said.

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