How Doctors Are Saving Stroke Victims’ Lives—With a Catheter

Death caused by strokes may be a thing of the past with this new medical discovery.

new_treatment_for_stroke_AndrewiStock/Andrew Dorey

Few medical conditions strike faster and with more finality than the brain death caused by stroke. But a new procedure has had such success that hospitals around the country are changing their protocols.

Normally, large-vessel strokes—big clots in big arteries that jeopardize blood flow to huge brain territories—are deadly. Existing blood-thinning medications aren’t effective at dissolving large clots.

But this treatment vacuum recently was flooded with five major clinical trials demonstrating the effectiveness of mechanical thrombectomy, in which a catheter is threaded through an artery in the groin and up to the blockage in the brain, where a stent pulls the clot from the vessel.

“This is the penicillin era in stroke treatment,” says Alexander A. Khalessi, MD, vice chairman of clinical affairs in the department of neurosurgery at UC San Diego Health.

The chance of a full recovery from a large-vessel stroke goes down each minute it’s left untreated; with mechanical thrombectomy, that number soars to above 60 percent if treatment is started within six hours, says Dr. Khalessi. “Patients go from literally dying to going home to their families—it’s about as miraculous a thing as you can encounter in medicine.”

MORE: Carotid Artery Surgery: Could It Give You a Stroke?

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest