Lifewatch: Stroke Victims

WILMINGTON -- A new device is designed to get rid of blood clots that can do serious damage to stroke victims.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and is the leading cause of disability.

A year ago, Susan McIntosh had a stroke that left her paralyzed on her right side, and unable to speak.

"I came downstairs to feed the dogs and I dropped the bowl of dog food and I couldn't figure out why I dropped it. I thought, you know, 'I feel kind of funny.' I'm going to go in the living room and lay down and I got about to here and I just fell on the floor," said Susan.

When Susan got to the hospital, it had been three hours since her symptoms first started, and too late to use the standard stroke treatment, TPA.

But, there was still time to use a new tool called, Penumbra.

"By going up to eight hours, we're expanding that window of time that you can get a patient to the hospital and treat them, but you're also not giving them a strong drug necessarily, so there's a theoretical chance that you're going to have less chance of the bleeding," said Dr. Ronald F. Budzik, Jr.

A catheter goes from a small incision in the groin through blood vessels up to the blockage in the brain.  Penumbra suctions out the clot.

A new study shows it restored blood flow in 82% of 125 patients, and 60% were better neurologically.

"The first time with the device that we got the vessel open, it was one of those things that makes you get the chills and you shiver and we were high-fiving everybody in the room because the patient just starts talking to us and she had not been able to talk previously," said Dr. Budzik, Jr.

That's what happened to Susan.

"He asked me how I was and I said, 'I'm fine,' and I could actually talk and then I could feel my fingers," said Susan.

She made a complete recovery.

The only symptom that Susan still has is shaky handwritting.


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BACKGROUND: Stoke is the third leading cause of death in America, and the number one cause of adult disability. A stroke is also known as a "brain attack" and occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery carrying blood to the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain breaks disrupting the flow of blood (hemorrhagic stroke). When either of these things occur, blood-starved brain cells begin to die causing brain damage. When brain cells die, abilities controlled by that part of the brain are lost, including speech, movement and memory. How severely a stroke patient is affected depends on where in the brain the stroke occurs and how much of the brain is damaged. It's important to recognize signs someone is having a stroke quickly and to seek appropriate medical attention as soon as possible; the more time that elapses after the onset of a stroke the harder it is to treat. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of your face, arm or leg -- usually on one side of your body
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech (aphasia)
  • Sudden blurred, double or decreased vision
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination
  • A sudden, severe "bolt out of the blue" headache or an unusual headache, which may be accompanied by a stiff neck, facial pain, pain between your eyes, vomiting or altered consciousness
  • Confusion, or problems with memory, spatial orientation or perception

TRADITIONAL TREATMENTS: To treat a stroke, the source of disrupted blood flow must be remedied. For an ischemic stroke, this means removing or dissolving a clot. Clot-busting drugs are the most common treatment, but generally need to be administered within three hours of the stroke's onset. Tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) is thought to be one of the most successful types of clot-busting drugs. Other treatment options include surgical procedures like carotid endarterectomy, where a surgeon directly opens the carotid artery in the neck and removes the clot.

VACUUMING: A new device called Penumbra treats ischemic strokes by sucking clots out of blocked arteries like a vacuum. Penumbra is attached to a catheter and inserted through a small incision in the groin. It's then snaked up through blood vessels until it reaches the point of the blockage. It then applies suction pressure to the outer edge of the clot, eliminating the need to navigate through or beyond the blockage. In a recent clinical trial, Penumbra successfully opened up 82 percent of blockages in 125 patients. One distinct advantage of Penumbra is that it can be used after the traditional three-hour window for treatment. "By going up to eight hours, we're expanding that window of timethat you can get a patient to the hospital and treat them but you're also not giving them a strong drug necessarily so there's a theoretical chance that you're going to have less chance of the bleeding," Ronald F. Budzik Jr., M.D., neuroradiologist and lead researcher at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Ivanhoe.

Reported by Kristy Ondo