Strokes may not be the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, but they are easily one of the major causes of severe disability.

“People often survive a stroke, but a huge percentage become disabled in doing so. In fact, more than 7 million stroke survivors exist and two thirds of them are disabled,” explained Cheri Arnold, Stroke Program Manager at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC). “When I talk with patients, they often tell me their biggest fear is not being able to live their life the way they came in.”

While the most common stroke-related disabilities include weakness, arm and/or leg paralysis, and speech problems, the most devastating and feared strokes leave patients bedbound and completely dependent on others.

Striving to overcome stroke’s debilitating and permanent effects, medical professionals at EIRMC, the only primary stroke center in Idaho Falls, rush to provide vital education and timely treatment.

Every minute counts – new artificial intelligence (AI) speeds treatment

For every minute of a stroke, two million brain cells die. So, the key to surviving and decreasing the severity of stroke-related disabilities revolves around time.

To beat the clock, teams at EIRMC began using cutting-edge AI technology to speed up the process of diagnosing patients with large vessel occlusion strokes, or strokes that result from a blockage in one of the major arteries of the brain.

“These strokes impact a large area of the brain and have higher rates of disability and death,” Cheri said. “The AI technology can accurately identify those large vessel occlusions on a patient’s imaging and then immediately send out alerts to the radiologist. That way, even if it’s 2 a.m. and our interventional radiologist is at home, he can review the scans and rapidly engage our stroke teams.”

The new, advanced technology went live in February 2021 at EIRMC, and the stroke center has already seen quickening in stroke treatment intervention. For example, the time from when a stroke patient arrives at the hospital to when they receive a life-saving thrombectomy (a procedure to open the blocked vessel) has decreased from 95 to 90 mins. A 5 minute improvement than can lead to 10 million brain cells saved.

What YOU can do to save brain

While physicians and stroke teams fine-tune efficiency and synchronize efforts, stroke treatment can’t begin until a patient arrives at the hospital. So, if a stroke is suspected, call 9-1-1 immediately.

“We can treat patients so much faster if they come in via ambulance,” Cheri said. “The emergency transport teams gather medical history, get vital signs, complete a blood glucose test and start an IV – they shave off a lot of time for us. Plus, they alert the hospital teams so we’re ready and waiting for the patient’s arrival.” Additionally, it’s important to get to the right hospital that has life-saving stroke care; EIRMC is the only hospital in Idaho Falls that performs the life-saving procedure to open a large vessel occlusion.

Another way people can speed up stroke care is knowing and identifying stroke symptoms promptly.

“Such a huge burden of this remains on people recognizing the symptoms and getting patients to the hospital quickly. Sometimes we think symptoms will get better; sometimes we want to power through. But a stroke is one thing you can’t power through. So, know the signs and get to the hospital. We like to use the acronym BE FAST,” Cheri said.

BE FAST when identifying stroke signs:

B – balance or dizziness problems

E – eyes with sudden vision changes, such as double vision or split vision

F – facial droop

A – arm weakness

S – slurred speech

T – time to call 9-1-1

Quick and coordinated stroke care make all the difference in recovery. By minimizing negative effects of stroke, patients can better return to daily activities and quality of life.

For example, Cheri remembers a gentleman who arrived at EIRMC with a large, disabling stroke. He suffered from severe weakness on one side of his body and an inability to speak. The EIRMC team sprung into action and administered a clot-busting medication and then performed a thrombectomy. 90 days later, he is now at home enjoying retirement with his wife.

“Without such quick and quality stroke treatment he could have died or been severely disabled. He’s now living his life at home with his loved ones. That’s what we find hugely gratifying and that’s what we hope and strive for with every patient,” Cheri said.