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UPMC McKeesport certified a primary stroke center

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 10:41 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Emergency medicine director Dr. Rani Kumar prepares to confer with a physician at UPMC Presbyterian via telemedicine technology while clinician John Fairbaugh, emergency department unit director Debbie Solvay and cardiovascular unit director Keith Schork stand by.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Reviewing the stroke information posted on the Step-Down unit at UPMC McKeesport, from left, are, unit director Deborah Vehec, stroke medical director Edward Mistler, Step-Down clinician Jenna Jasek, stroke coorinator Chris Rozanski, and Step-Down clinician Jenna Jasek.

It was a typical day for Sally Martin. She had just cut some flowers from her garden when they suddenly fell out of her hand. She wasn't sure where she was.

She was dizzy and having difficulty walking. She managed to call 911, but had a hard time seeing the numbers. When she tried to talk, her speech was slurred. She was having a stroke.

Because time is vital in treating a stroke patient, emergency medical personnel took her to UPMC McKeesport, the nearest primary stroke center.

Until May 31, though, the nearest such facility was in Pittsburgh.

“We went through the Joint Commission stroke survey on May 1 and we were awarded advanced certification as a primary stroke center on May 31,” said Chris Rozanski, stroke coordinator at UPMC McKeesport, where about 15-20 stroke patients are treated each week.

Stroke medicine director Edward Mistler said, when EMS respond to a stroke call, “they want to go to a primary stroke center and the ambulance takes them there. But time equals brain and patients in this area were losing valuable time because they were going to other hospitals.”

To receive the two-year certification, UPMC McKeesport met national standards that include having a comprehensive stroke-focused program with stroke care-trained staff, patient involvement in their hospital care plans, coordination of patient self-care after leaving the hospital, and stroke care based on recommendations of the Brain Attack Coalition and guidelines published by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Other criteria include a streamlined flow of patient information, overall hospital performance data and use of data to assess and improve the quality of care for stroke patients.

Deborah Vehec, director on the step-down unit, said the staff on designated stroke units — the critical care unit, the step-down unit and the emergency department — have been specially trained.

“A lot of our staff has been educated to quickly recognize the signs and symptoms of a possible stroke,” she said.

The AHA/ASA reports that stroke is one of the leading causes of death and serious long-term disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when one of the arteries to the brain is blocked or bursts. That results in lack of blood flow and the brain starts to die.

Care as soon as possible after symptoms appear is crucial, Mistler said.

“In the first 3 12 hours, there is a lot we can do,” Mistler emphasized. “After four hours there are still a lot of things we can do and six hours after the onset of symptoms there are some we can do. After that, there is not much we can do for acute stroke, but there is a lot we can do to prevent the next one.”

Cheryl Abbot, director of quality at the hospital, said UPMC McKeesport has been providing “excellent state-of-the-art stroke care for a long time and we are still providing the same level of care. The difference is we are now recognized as a primary stroke center.”

When a stroke patient arrives at the hospital, physicians have 24-hour access to specialists at the UPMC Stroke Institute in Pittsburgh, who offer a higher level of treatment and care to patients without the necessity of them being transported to Pittsburgh. A multidisciplinary team of specialists in emergency medicine, vascular neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation work together to diagnose and determine the most appropriate care.

There are four areas where symptoms show and require the patient to act FAST:

Face — an uneven smile or facial droop

Arm — arm numbness or weakness

Speech — slurred speech, difficulty speaking or understanding

Time — call 911 immediately

“You need to see your doctor and you need to quit smoking,” Mistler stressed. “Smoking can be 100 percent modified. You also need to have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and keep your diabetes in control.”

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or

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