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Tiny "Vacuum Cleaner" Saves Stroke Victims' Lives

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Some doctors have described a Penumbra in terms of a pipe snake unclogging a bathroom drain. In fact, that’s a relatively correct description if one were to look at how the medical device works: the Penumbra, a miniscule catheter device, is inserted into an artery in the groin. The device is then "guided" through the body– through the heart and carotid artery, and into the brain. That’s how Doctor John Whapham, assistant professor in the departments of Neurology and Neurological Surgery at Loyola University’s Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, would described the procedure. In fact, Dr. Whapham used the procedure on Bobby Laird after she was rushed to the emergency room after suffering a stroke. According to Dr. Whapham, the procedure saved her life.

Laird, age 57, was rushed to the Loyola University Medical Center emergency room in September. She was paralyzed on her left side, disoriented and was lapsing into a coma. After receiving the appropriate go-ahead from the catheter lab at the hospital, Dr. Whapham used the Penumbra to remove a blood clot from her brain. Without the procedure, Dr. Whapham estimates Laird’s mortality rate between 60 and 80 percent, while the Penumbra procedure posed a mortality risk of only 3 to 4 percent.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Whapham warns, the procedure must be done quickly, but cautiously, since a blood vessel could be perforated–a fatal incidence. However, "time is brain" when a patient suffers a stroke. Laird is now in physical and occupational therapies and is recovering: her speech is improving, she can walk, and she can now move her arm and leg on her once-paralyzed side. Dr. Whapham has saved many other stroke victims using the Penumbra–he has performed the procedure on hundreds of other patients, from the very young to the very elderly.

As Dr. Whapham stated, "time is brain", that is getting to the hospital as quickly as possible after a stroke is very important in limiting brain damage. Tjhat being said, more than 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke per year and 150,000 of those people die. The National Stroke Association advises patients to use the following stroke prevention guidelines:

  • Know your blood pressure, have it checked at least once a year

  • Find out if you have atrial fibrillation, which encourages the formation of blood clots that could cause a stroke

  • If you smoke, stop

  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation

  • Find out if you have high cholesterol

  • If you have diabetes, take measures to control the condition

  • Include exercise in your daily routine

  • Eat a low-salt diet

  • Ask your physician if you have circulation problems that could increase the risk of stroke and

  • If you experience any stroke symptoms, including sudden weakness of the face or a limb, a blurring of vision, dizziness, or an intense headache, seek immediate medical attention.