Commentary: Orange County leads the nation in effective stroke treatment

May is Stroke Awareness Month, and when it comes to a stroke, it’s important to act FAST.

FAST refers to the symptoms and instructions to consider if you suspect someone is having a stroke:

• Face – Face drooping

• Arm – Arm weakness

• Speech – Speech difficulty

• Time – Time to call 911 to get to a certified stroke hospital. Check the time last seen normal.

That “T” for “time” is critical. For every minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain is blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons, affecting speech, movement and memory.

In Orange County, a call placed to 911 will send a stroke patient to a designated Stroke Neurology Receiving Center (SNRC), such as Hoag Hospital, where a highly trained team will be waiting with the most advanced treatment options available.

A SNCR has the expertise and experience to move quickly and expertly to not only save patients’ lives but their quality of life, as well. At Hoag, for instance, dedicated neuro-hospitalists deliver the most innovative, cutting-edge care available for stroke. And we do it quickly. Patients arriving at our emergency department with signs of stroke receive an initial triage assessment, lab testing and neuro-imaging within 20 minutes of their arrival, surpassing the national benchmark of 30 minutes.

We’re not stopping there. This community has seen evolutionary changes in outcomes over the past 10 years, and now we’re making revolutionary changes, redesigning how strokes are treated in Orange County to make outcomes better and better.

In fact, five national stroke trials were published last year that support the use of protocol similar to those we have been using for the last 12 years. This includes advanced brain imaging, the use of tPA and clot retrieval devices.

Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA) is a medication that helps dissolve blood clots. In the original study, 30% of patients who receive intravenous tPA within three hours from the onset of symptoms have no significant deficit after 90 days. Thanks to our processes, Hoag sees 61% of its patients who receive IV-tPA have no significant deficit within 90 days.

At Hoag, patients also have access to the latest stroke treatment devices such as stent retrievers, which can pull a clot out of a blood vessel in the brain.

These numbers reflect the dedication and foresight of Orange County’s medical community, one of the first in the nation to center itself around the comprehensive SNRC model. If you suffer a stroke in Orange County, you have a better chance than nearly anywhere in the world of returning to your life as though nothing ever happened.

The secret to our success is speed, innovation and expertise. Because when it comes to stroke, it is important to act FAST. And nobody has acted faster in leading stroke innovation than this community.

DAVID BROWN, M.D., is program director of Hoag’s Stroke Program.