July 19, 2008

Stroke Specialists Connect Via Video

By Stephen J. Pytak, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.

Jul. 19--For stroke vicims, time lost is brain lost.

That's why Pottsville Hospital and Warne Clinic started a telestroke program Wednesday, an interactive video and audio connection doctors at Pottsville Hospital and Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, 44 miles apart, can use to treat stroke patients in Pottsville, said Dr. Robert Felberg, Geisinger Health System's stroke program director.

"There are treatments available for stroke, but they can only be given very quickly. When a person is having a stroke and they can come to the (Pottsville Hospital) emergency room in a quick manner, they can be treated aggressively and we can reverse the stroke," Felberg said at a press conference at Pottsville Hospital Wednesday morning.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries blood and oxygen to the brain is either blocked by a clot or the vessel bursts, starving the brain of precious nutrients and killing the tissue.

About 85 percent of strokes are created by blood clots. But not all of these patients recognize the symptoms and get to the hospital in time to treat the problem, Felberg said.

Dr. Jeffrey J. Narmi, Pottsville Hospital's medical director of emergency services, said traditional warning signs include sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg, difficulty speaking, decreased vision, blindness in one eye, double vision or sudden, severe headaches.

Doctors can administer a medication called TPA to break up blood clots that block blood flow to the brain, but only within a six-hour window, Felberg said.

"The expertise available to give this drug is not that widespread. There's only a number of specialists out there who can give this medication," Felberg said.

Through the telestroke program, Geisinger specialists can evaluate patients at Pottsville Hospital, review brain scans and work with Pottsville Hospital emergency department physicians to provide the best acute stroke care, said Michael Peckman, Pottsville Hospital's public relations director.

Pottsville Hospital treats about 300 stroke patients a year, and with quick intervention from Geisinger, a stroke center certified by the Joint Commission, it's possible more lives can be saved, said Narmi.

"We'd be saving lives and also reducing disability of people who have had strokes," Felberg said.

Telemedicine is becoming a trend in Schuylkill County. In November 2007, Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, Pottsville, officially became the first medical facility in Pennsylvania to use a teletrauma system, linked to Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network, said Michelle H. Canfield, Good Samaritan's community relations director.

This is Geisinger's first telestroke venture, but Felberg said Geisinger is planning to establish telestroke programs with Tyler Memorial Hospital, Tunkhannock, and Shamokin Area Community Hospital.

"It's really becoming a standard in care," Narmi said.


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