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New Unit Already Increasing Survival Rate of Patients

During a stroke emergency, "time is brain." With a new dedicated stroke unit, Inova Alexandria Hospital is saving lives and preventing the long-term side effects of stroke. The faster a patient gets to the Emergency Department, the faster doctors can administer clot-busting drugs (tPA) that have been found to reduce death rates and side effects in a dramatic way.

Nationwide, 400,000 Americans suffer strokes each year. It is the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States, and the No. 3 cause of death. Because of its aging population, the City of Alexandria has the highest density of stroke patients in all of Northern Virginia.

The cutting-edge care at Inova Alexandria Hospital's new stroke unit is led by a group of stroke rapid response nurses (SRRN). These nurses receive 40 hours of hands-on and classroom education and must pass rigorous oral and written exams for accreditation. Once training is complete, they are ready to respond at a patient's bedside or the Emergency Department within five to 10 minutes of a call.

The nurses assess for stroke by using the 11 categories on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale. A stroke nurse can also expedite testing like CT scans and electrocardiograms (EKG), analyze those tests and then quickly provide that information to a physician.

"When doctors get a call from a stroke nurse, they know they are getting accurate information and can trust the assessment," said Simon Fishman, M.D., neurologist and team leader, stroke clinical effectiveness, Inova Alexandria Hospital. "The nurses are a tremendous asset in the Emergency Department, where every second counts."

THE SPECIAL STROKE program will help reduce mortality rates by 10 to 15 percent. The use of tPA at Inova Alexandria Hospital has increased to 8 percent, twice the national average. Clot-busting drugs can reduce the brain damage and paralysis linked to stroke. Through the use of tPA, Inova Alexandria Hospital has been able to decrease a patient’s length of stay and improve a patient’s chances to be discharged to home instead of a long-term-care facility.

More patients at Inova Alexandria Hospital are receiving tPA because it can only be administered within a few hours after symptoms begin. That's where the rapid response is so essential.

With the combined team effort of patients, family members, emergency medical technicians, physicians and the stroke rapid response nurses, stroke patients can live longer, healthier lives.