Wednesday, April 13, 2011 2:00 AM

Community Regional helps other hospitals save stroke patients lives

Community Regional Medical Center’s Stroke Center will help save more stroke patients throughout the Valley as well as give them better outcomes because of expanded outreach to outlying hospitals in the region.

For every minute the brain is deprived of oxygen, approximately 1.9 million brain cells die, affecting abilities such as speech, movement and memory.  To help prevent death and disability, Community Regional has expanded emergency treatment of strokes caused by clots that block blood flows by initiating “Drip and Ship” protocols with several hospitals. Under the new protocols, hospitals start intravenous (IV) administration of a clot-busting drug to patients and then transport them to Community Regional’s Stroke Center.

To date, Adventist Hospital in Hanford and Madera Community Hospital have participated in this initiative. Their emergency physicians and nurses received education on the use of t-PA (tissue plasminogin activator) for patients arriving at their facilities within the three-hour window of stroke symptoms when the drug t-PA can be effective. The outlying hospital will administer t-PA and the patient will be transported to downtown Fresno’s Community Regional for a higher level of stroke care.

Community Regional Medical Center earned the Gold Seal of Approval™ from The Joint Commission for Primary Stroke Centers. For patients, this means the nation’s oldest and largest accrediting agency found the hospital’s stroke care exceptional. It’s the only program certified at that level between San Francisco and Bakersfield.

“Just as trauma has a ‘Golden Hour’ for optimum treatment, stroke care has a ‘window of treatment’,” said Kathy Barger, stroke program coordinator at Community Regional. “This is why it is so important to the region to have a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center. We have a team on standby to aggressively treat an acute stroke in this time frame.”

Community Regional’s stroke team consists of neurologists, emergency doctors, specialty stroke physician assistant, stroke-trained nurses, a neuro-interventionalist and radiologist.  The high quality care continues with a special intensive care unit for neurology and stroke patients, a 20-bed unit with nurses dedicated to stroke patients and physical, occupational and speech therapy designed and dedicated to helping stroke patients recover their abilities.

“Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in this country, yet fewer than one in five Americans can recognize a symptom of a stroke,” said Dr. Tanya Warwick, medical director of Community Regional’s Stroke Center. “Learning the signs and symptoms is imperative to good outcomes. Because the earlier you can get to the hospital, the higher your chances of receiving appropriate treatment and saving brain function.”

Community Regional staff have also reached out with community education to help people recognize the signs of stroke and seek help fast.  In addition to talks with the Rotary and the Osher Foundation at Fresno State, Dr. Warwick has created the Fresno Area Stroke Task Force or FAST Force dedicated to community awareness of stroke prevention and signs and symptoms of stroke. This is a multidisciplinary consortium with representatives from local hospitals and many community leaders.

The acronym FAST for the task force also corresponds to the signs and symptoms that indicate a stroke.  Acting F.A.S.T. is key to receiving proper treatment. Here are some F.A.S.T. tips:

F= Face         Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A=Arms        Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S= Speech   Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T=Time         If you observe any of these signs, then it’s time to call 9-1-1.


Mary Lisa Russell and Kathy Barger, Stroke Coordinator at Community Regional, reported this story. They can be reached at