Changes to rural stroke treatment saving lives

A new streamlined process can save 90 minutes and 180 million brain cells per stroke patient.

The initiative gives patients living in rural areas timely access to procedures only provided in big cities.

Auckland-based neurologist Dr Alan Barber says, when it comes to treating stroke, every second counts.

"For every minute there's a clot blocking blood flow you lose 2 million brain cells," he said

At that rate, patients have just six hours to be treated with blood clot retrieval surgery at Auckland Hospital.

But for those living in rural areas like Taranaki, St John Territory Manager Roger Blume says that timeframe is often out of reach.

"A doctor who is a stroke lead here spoke to me in a corridor and said that we live too far away and it won't be happening from here. So I guess that issues a challenge," he said.

A challenge Mr Blume chose to accept.

Partnering up with the local Rescue Helicopter Trust and District Health Boards in Taranaki and Auckland they've streamlined the treatment process.

"This wasn't difficult to get over the line, but it was time consuming. We changed a lot of process within the hospital, and changed a lot of process within St John," Mr Blume said.

That means giving paramedics the ability to identify a blood clot, and immediately alert teams at Taranaki Hospital, where an MRI brain scan is waiting.

"We've got acceptance to move hospital patients out of the hospital to the helicopter prior to them being accepted in Auckland," Mr Blume said.

It means no delay getting into surgery, saving 90 minutes and 180 million brain cells per patient. 

"This is absolutely the difference between life and death and not just life and death it's the difference between living independently and not," said Dr Barber.

Eight Taranaki patients have so far been treated successfully including Murray Horo who suffered a stroke in August.

He says had it not been for the quick response he'd need round the clock care.

"I'm walking, I can move my arms and legs so that's all that matters really."

Mr Horo and St John hope the success of this initiative will see other rural regions follow suit.