Among all the potential medical misfortunes that a person can experience to their health, few hold the rank as a stroke for being the most frightening. The reason for that is because a stroke can happen at any time, to anyone, anywhere. A stroke, to put it in its simplest terms, is a brain attack, and it occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is restricted or cut off.
When this occurs, the affected area of the brain does not receive oxygen and the cells begin to die. The results vary, but common after effects include problems with movement and balance, vision problems, difficulty swallowing, loss of bladder and bowel control and even death. However, a new procedure is showing great promise in not only saving the lives of stroke victims but minimizing the potential damage of it.
The procedure is known as a thrombectomy, and it involves the feeding of a tiny catheter into an artery near the groin. From there it is navigated all the way up into the brain and eventually through the blockage. When the device reaches the blockage, it is expanded to grab the clot, where it is then pulled out, allowing for the blood flow again. And how long does this procedure take? About ten minutes. Up until the advent of thrombectomies, the only option available for urgent blockage removal for stroke was the use of clot-busting drugs. And while the use of these drugs was considered a breakthrough when they were first introduced around 20 years ago, the fact remains that their success is limited.
Dr. Michael Hill, a stroke specialist in Calgary, helped pioneer the development of thrombectomies in Canada. "Now we've shown that we're actually saving lives. We're not only reducing the disability, we're reducing the mortality from these big strokes by about 50 per cent. So this is another big leap.” While this procedure is certainly promising and has already proven itself effective, Hill acknowledges that the procedure must be performed carefully - which means that a specialized team is required. Clot-busting drugs are simple in the fact that they can be easily administered intravenously by frontline physicians. However, a thrombectomy requires a highly specialized team that includes an interventional neuroradiologist — a subspecialty that was only recognized as such by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 2013. While this procedure is not widespread across the country, if the success of it continues, chances are you will find a team of specialist in just about every emergency room across the globe - which needless to say, is great news that most of us hope to never experience.