Mercy to start stroke program

Mercy Medical Center will soon start a stroke program that will not only treat patients, but will also educate the community.

The hospital has already hired a full-time stroke coordinator to help jump-start the program. The Mercy Medical Center Foundation hopes to raise over $200,000 during a gala next month to help support the program.

The hospital’s goal is to deploy a certified stroke program. The program is designed to help Mercy achieve that certification. “Our stroke program is so important because with strokes the most important thing — so that you can either rehabilitate or prevent unnecessary death — is to have qualified staff, nurses and physicians working very quickly,” said Jessica Rivas, chief nurse for Mercy. “Two million brain cells die each minute during a stroke.”

A stroke is a brain attack that cuts off blood flow and oxygen to the brain, according to the National Stroke Association. The hospital saw 180 stroke patients during the 2010-11 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Rivas said. Nine of those were hemorrhagic strokes, which happen when the brain bleeds.

The other 171 were ischemic strokes, which happen when arteries are blocked with blood clots or plaque.

There are several causes for strokes — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, obesity and smoking, among others. “I think that with the (local) population of diabetes we are going to see more patients have strokes,” she said.

Medical staff must act fast when treating an ischemic stroke patient because they have only a four-hour window to give the patient medication to dissolve the clots or plaque.

Through the program, Mercy will train nurses, physicians and emergency medical service personnel. The program will also educate the community about various techniques for recognizing a stroke, such as a person’s inability to raise both arms, slurred speech and a person’s face drooping on one side.

If you experience any of those symptoms, you should immediately call 911, Rivas said. The program will benefit the community and will also help decrease effects of a stroke, she said. A stroke can take away a person’s ability to function because it causes paralysis.

Rehabilitation services will be a crucial component of the program, which will help patients rehabilitate more quickly and effectively, Rivas said — “to get them moving and get them back to where they were before” suffering the stroke.

It will take about a year for the hospital to get certification as a primary stroke center. “Mercy is taking the additional step,” said Bob McLaughlin, spokesman for Mercy. “This additional certification really focuses on treating strokes in a timely manner.”

The hospital recently hired Amanda Knish as the full-time stroke coordinator to help begin the educational part of the program, apply for the certification process, develop policies and procedures and to conduct outreach with area emergency medical service personnel. Knish will begin her job duties in about two weeks. “She is highly trained in opening and beginning programs and achieving certification,” Rivas said.

The Mercy Medical Center Foundation will host a gala on Sept. 24 to raise money to help bring the stroke program to Merced. Jim Cunningham, president of the foundation, said through funding efforts from the event, together with community support, they will bring a vital program to the area that will go beyond treating patients.

The money raised during the gala will help fund a medical robot that will provide patients with 24-hour access to a neurologist, the stroke coordinator, patient and community education and the certification.

Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in America.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209)385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsun-star.com.