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Mobile unit speeds up life-saving care for Phoenix stroke patients

Barrow Neurological Institute and the Phoenix Fire Department unveiled their mobile stroke unit in 2017. (Barrow Neurological Institute)

PHOENIX — People who suffer a stroke in Phoenix are getting life-saving care faster.

It’s all done through the mobile stroke unit, a partnership between the Phoenix Fire Department and Barrow Neurological Institute.

The unit, launched in 2017, is made up of emergency responders from Phoenix Fire and stroke experts from Barrow, including a stroke-certified nurse and a CT technician. They are equipped to treat patients for stroke right from a large ambulance.

“We’re literally taking the ER to the home,” said Jeff Case, deputy chief with Phoenix Fire’s emergency medical services division.

When responding to a call, the unit is able to determine what type of stroke the patient is experiencing using a portable head CT scanner. A neurosurgeon is brought on through telemedicine to confirm the stroke diagnosis. Treatment on the patient begins before being taken to the hospital.

Case said this effort is dramatically speeding up the process in which stroke patients get diagnosed and treated, greatly reducing death and long-term disability.

“We’ve had in the years we’ve had this in place countless number of patients who have literally left the hospital the next morning with zero deficits because of this early intervention,” he said.

For stroke patients, time is of the essence. Case said brain tissue dies very quickly, with irreversible brain damage starting a few minutes into a stroke.

“The sooner we can identify a patient that has a stroke – or is presenting with signs and symptoms of a stroke – and then put in place the appropriate treatment, then we literally are saving brain tissue,” he said.

Case added that recognizing the symptoms of a stroke early on increases the chances of “living a productive and normal life versus a life of disability or even obviously death.”

The acronym F.A.S.T is often used to help people remember the stroke symptoms. The letter “F” stands for facial drooping, “A” stands for arm weakness, “S” is for speech difficulty and “T” is for time to call 911.

Case said call for help even if just one of these symptoms is present.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry – don’t wait,” he said. “That’s the number one challenge we have – is people minimize these symptoms and thinking they’re going to get better.”

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