MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A new ambulance designed just for stroke patients could make the difference in a field where every minute counts.
The UT College of Medicine unveiled its Mobile Stroke Unit during an event at FedExForum Tuesday afternoon. The 14-ton vehicle carries a hospital-grade CT scanner that will allow a neurologist and medics to pinpoint the cause of the stroke and begin treatment in the field.
"If someone has a stroke, time is brain. And the first 60 minutes of what's happening with a patient after a stoke happens largely determines how this person spends the rest of their life," said Dr. Andrei Alexandrov, who chairs the Department of Neurology and envisioned the project.
"Giving clot-busting medicine on this ambulance will allow us to return more people back to normal lives," he said.
Right now, it takes an average of 75 minutes from the time a patient is picked up by an ambulance to when treatment begins at the hospital. The new mobile unit could cut that time to just 15 minutes, the school said.
A more precise diagnosis in the ambulance also allows patients to head straight to a catheterization lab or intensive care unit, rather than facing more delays in the emergency room.
The ambulance should make a big difference in Memphis, where the incidence of stroke is already 37 percent higher than the national average.
"There's a saying that Mid-South is the stroke belt and that Memphis is the buckle of the stroke belt. And that's not a compliment," said Dr. David Stern, an executive dean and Vice-Chancellor for Clinical Affairs.
The unit will enter service in April and be based out of Fire Station 14 on East McElmore Avenue, near Interstate 240. Doctors will focus on calls in the areas with highest risk for stroke, including Whitehaven and Frayser, but are available to serve all of Shelby County.
The ambulance will operate for 12 hours a day every other week, with breaks to review progress in between.
The program is funded with $3.1 million raised through a public-private collaboration, including anonymous donors. It covers the cost of building the ambulance and running it for up to three years.
"The Memphis community believed in the effort we made. All of the money came from within Memphis," Stern said. "It was an investment in itself. It's a belief that we can make a difference here and that's what we're all about."