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Mercy Health’s Mobile Stroke Unit brings the ‘ER door to the stroke patient’

Mercy Health’s Mobile Stroke Unit brings the ‘ER door to the stroke patient’

In July of 2016, John Caldwell, a 47-year-old railroad engineer, reported to work as usual but soon found himself experiencing head pressure, facial drooping and numbness on the left side of his body — all classic symptoms of a stroke in the early stages.

“I didn’t know it then, but they dispatched a stroke unit, thank God. I remember them CT-scanning me right in the parking lot and hearing different conversations between the tech and the doctor,” John said. “I heard him tell the tech to give the TPA drug and the next thing I know I’m in the trauma room at St. V’s.”

Once John got to Mercy Health — St. Vincent Medical Center, he was able to put a face to the voice he heard in the vehicle — one that belonged to Dr. Sam Zaidat, Mercy Neuroscience and Stroke medical director. For John, the unbelievable part was discovering that the doctor who saw him in person was the same one who ordered his treatment via two-way video technology from within the Mobile Stroke Unit.

Made possible by the Mercy Health Foundation through the generous support of many donors, including Kingston Healthcare, HCF Management and Dorothy MacKenzie Price, the MSU has been operational since January of 2016. It represents a key element in Mercy Health’s continuing mission to provide the best possible care precisely when and where it’s needed most.

No one ever wants to experience the symptoms of stroke, but Northwest Ohio residents who do can take heart in one key advantage currently shared by those Work we were meant to do Mercy Health’s Mobile Stroke Unit brings the ‘ER door to the stroke patient’ in only a handful of other places across the nation: EMS-dispatched, road-ready emergency stroke care delivered through the area’s first and only Mobile Stroke Unit (MSU).

According to Mobile Stroke Unit Program Manager Julie Goins-Whitmore, the previous best case scenario treatment for a stroke was simply to “load and go” as quickly as possible in the attempt to shave critical minutes off the clock before treatment could be administered back at the hospital. However, by dispatching the Mobile Stroke Unit, potentially lifesaving medicine can be delivered seconds after arrival.

“Not only are we a Mobile Stroke Unit, we are like a neuro ICU on wheels, equipped with technology that enables CT scans to be performed right on the spot,” Goins-Whitmore said. “Every minute you are having a stroke, millions of brain cells die. By evaluating, diagnosing and beginning treatment immediately, we’re able to bring service to a whole new level for our patients.”

Shortening “door-to-needle” time

For his part, Dr. Zaidat acknowledged that every second he saved likely made the difference.

“The faster we are able to administer clot-busting drugs, the more likely we are to not only increase the chances of a patient’s survival, but also the quality of his or her recovery,” Dr. Zaidat said. “The big measurement is the ‘door-to-needle’ time. Previously we thought in terms of providing treatment within 60 minutes of reaching the door at the ER. Now, we’re bringing the ER door to the patient, measuring time frames from the time of the first contact to initial treatment.”  Judy Smith, CT technologist with the Mobile Stroke Unit, demonstrates the unit’s CT scanner to patient, John Caldwell

Many more for the road

Since early 2016, Lucas County EMS has dispatched the Mobile Stroke Unit well over 300 times, often joining local fire department personnel and traditional paramedics on emergency calls throughout Northwest Ohio. Somewhat surprisingly, Goins-Whitmore reports that the work has involved much more than just stroke cases.

“We thought we’d only see stroke patients, but since we went live with the program, we’re treating a whole host of neuro problems, including first-time seizure patients and complex migraine cases,” Julie said. “The big thing is we just want to say how grateful we are to the Mercy Health Foundation for the donation and for believing in our program. This really is what we were meant to do.”

John Caldwell echoed those sentiments, saying that he feels he owes his life to the MSU and the medical professionals who staff it. “My goal was to get better and get back to my job of raising my four boys. Between the people on that stroke unit and back at the hospital, everybody worked together like a ballet to help me make that happen.

They all knew what to do and did everything as quickly and efficiently as they could have possibly done it,” he said. “I’ve talked to Julie and expressed my gratitude to her and the people who were on the truck that day. You couldn’t have choreographed it any better from start to finish. And, when I got out of the hospital, my fiancé, Shannon and the boys really helped me. I couldn’t have done it without them. Even on my worse days, they make me smile.”

The idea that someday we might experience symptoms of having a stroke isn’t something that crosses our minds very often, but thankfully, there is an expert team of physicians, surgeons and nurses at Mercy Health — The Neuroscience Institute already on top of it. That’s a thought that counts — wherever you are.


This is what we were meant to do.

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