Each year in the United States, there are 750,000 strokes, according to Robert H. Rosenwasser, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University. While stroke used to be the third-leading cause of death, it’s now the fifth. However, it is the leading cause of disability by a factor of five.
“It really dwarfs many other diseases that sometimes are a little bit more high-profile. For example, Parkinson’s disease,” Rosenwasser said. “It’s an important disease, but 20,000 a year in the U.S. compared to almost a million stroke patients.”
Still, 80 percent of strokes are preventable. It’s all about treating patients as quickly as possible because when it comes to a stroke, every minute counts.
To more efficiently serve individuals experiencing stroke in Lower Bucks County, Bensalem Rescue Squad and the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience at Jefferson University Hospital have partnered to create the area’s first Mobile Stroke Unit.
Branded as a “lifesaver on wheels,” the ambulance is equipped with telemedicine capabilities, a CT scanner and certified members of a “Brain Rescue Team” who are trained to assess, test and treat patients in the field (including their own driveway) before they are transported to the emergency department.
In the Mobile Stroke Unit, brain images are transmitted through the CT scanner to the neurology team at Jefferson. If a stroke is found, the “Brain Rescue Team” administers clot-busting medication immediately, when it’s most effective. This process shaves precious minutes off treatment time, ultimately reducing the risk of disability and improving patient outcomes.
The Mobile Stroke Unit was officially unveiled to the public on Thursday, May 16, during a ceremonial ribbon cutting, which took place at the headquarters of the Bensalem Rescue Squad, 3830 Hulmeville Road, Bensalem. With May being Stroke Awareness Month and EMS Week right around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been better.
Present at the event was Rosenwasser, who first encountered the Mobile Stroke Unit concept 15 years ago, when he was training residents in Germany.
“That’s really where the lightbulb went off,” he said.
Ever since, the implementation of a local version has been in the works. So why was Bensalem chosen as Jefferson’s partner? Rosenwasser explained how, over the years, a number of patients have been delivered to him by the Bensalem Rescue Squad, and he was able to get a sense of its work.
“It’s really a world-class unit,” he said. “It’s kind of like picking the team in baseball season. You gotta have all people that hit .300, and Bensalem hits .300.”
The rescue squad is headed by executive director Thomas Topley, who has been involved with the team for 34 years. Topley said he’s thrilled to be collaborating with Jefferson, and expects to reach at least 500 people annually through the Mobile Stroke Unit.
“The stroke program is really important to us because we’re able to get a job done that we were unable to do before. We’re actually going to bring world-class neuroscience to your driveway, and that’s not done anywhere in the region,” Topley said. “And the fact that we are working with a university health system is going to put this truck right above anyone around us in terms of care and being able to provide new and innovative treatments for our neighbors, not only in Bensalem but in Lower Bucks County.”
Attendees heard from Gerald Wydro, chair of Emergency Medicine at Jefferson Health – Northeast, who detailed how the Mobile Stroke Unit is bringing healthcare beyond the walls of a traditional “brick and mortar” hospital.
Previously, treatment was measured by “door-to-needle” time – the minutes it took for the patient to be given clot-busting medicine after coming through the emergency room door. Now, Jefferson is measuring “curbside-to-needle” time, since the drug can be injected by the “Brain Rescue Team” within minutes of arriving at the patient’s location.
“All of that is going to happen in a very rapid fashion, and we cannot understate the importance of that,” Wydro said. “A stroke happens every 40 seconds. This is real. The potential for death or severe disability is real.”
After remarks from local officials, including Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo and Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, both of whom shared heartfelt stories of loved ones suffering from and surviving strokes, the red ribbon was cut and guests were invited to tour the state-of-the-art Mobile Stroke Unit. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com