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Protecting Ohio’s stroke victims

F.A.S.T is an acronym widely used by health organizations and professionals to educate the public on how to identify and get treatment for someone experiencing a stroke. The acronym stands for Facial droop, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 911 and get to a hospital immediately.

What the public is not taught, however, is that it is critical for people experiencing a stroke to be taken to the correct hospital, not just the nearest hospital.

There are four different levels of stroke hospitals as determined by the Joint Commission, an independent, nonprofit organization that accredits healthcare facilities in the United States. From lowest to highest ranked, the four levels are acute, primary, thrombectomy-capable and comprehensive.

Someone experiencing a severe stroke needs to be taken to a comprehensive stroke center because they

are best equipped to treat severe strokes. Currently, no laws in Ohio require paramedics to take these patients to a comprehensive stroke center. Often, these patients are taken to the nearest hospital, which happens to be a primary stroke center and patients are not receiving critical life-saving treatment.

To rectify this issue, Senate Bill 302 has recently been introduced to put guidelines in place to help paramedics determine the severity of individuals’ strokes and help with the triage and transport to the correct hospital. SB 302 builds upon the the progress in stroke care made by Ohio when House Bill 464 was passed in 2018. Together, these bills would ensure people experiencing stroke would get to the correct hospital and receive life-saving treatment.

This is a personal issue for me because my father passed away due to a lengthy delay in treatment for his stroke. In March 2015, my father was experiencing an acute occlusion of the basilar artery. The basilar artery is the primary source of blood to the posterior portion of the brain. The only way to treat patients with stroke is to restore blood flow to the portion of the brain by removing the clot that is preventing blood flow.

This kind of stroke often is referred to by medical professionals as an emergent large vessel occlusion or ELVO. These strokes can be devastating without immediate treatment. The well-known maxim in stroke neurology is “time is brain.” This is because for every moment that the brain is deprived of blood, neurons and tissue are dying.

My father was taken by paramedics to a primary stroke center, St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. Despite my father getting to the hospital immediately after the initial onset of symptoms, he did not receive potentially life-saving treatment until after nearly 19 hours had passed. By then it was too late. My father never recovered and ultimately passed away as a result.

Had my father been taken to a comprehensive stroke center in Cleveland, I believe he would have received life-saving treatment immediately and likely he would be alive today.

I am grateful to our legislators for taking the steps to ensure more Ohioans that are experiencing stroke will receive the critical care they need, and I hope the state will pass SB 302 to ensure no Ohioan will be denied appropriate stroke care.

Mark Matasic of Campbell has become an advocate for improving stroke systems of care.

columns@tribtoday.com

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