Gerry Sandlin and UTHSC Mobile Stroke Unit . Photo submitted

MEMPHIS, TN — The University of Tennessee Health Science Center announced today that the Assisi Foundation of Memphis has awarded a $1.1 million grant to the UTHSC Mobile Stroke Unit.

Launched in 2016, the UTHSC Mobile Stroke Unit is a 14-ton stroke emergency room on wheels with hospital-grade CT equipment. It is designed so that diagnosis and treatment can begin in the field, instead of being delayed until arrival at a hospital.

Because 1.9 million neurons are lost each minute stroke is untreated, time is of the essence when it comes to successful outcomes. The unit is designed to reduce time until treatment and improve odds of recovery from stroke, which is the fifth leading cause of death and the Number 1 cause of permanent disability in adults in the United States. Depending on the type of stroke diagnosed, treatment with the clot-busting medicine, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), can begin on the Mobile Stroke Unit before arrival at the hospital.

Vinemont, Alabama, resident Gerry Sandlin, whose life was saved by the fast action of the Mobile Stroke Unit last year, returned to Memphis for the announcement today and to thank his physicians and the Mobile Stroke Unit team for what they did for him. Sandlin suffered a stroke on a Delta flight bound for Atlanta on February 13, 2018. The plane made an emergency landing at Memphis International Airport, the Mobile Stroke Unit was alerted, he was treated with tissue plasminogen activator inside the van parked on the tarmac, and taken to Methodist University Hospital, where the clot was successfully removed.

“I would like to thank the stroke team,” said Sandlin, who attended today’s announcement with his wife, Bobbye. “They do remarkable work.”

Chancellor Schwab thanked the Assisi Foundation for its generous support of the Mobile Stroke Unit.

Since its launch, the unit has been called to respond to possible strokes on average of four to five times a day when it is in service. It is housed at a fire station at 980 E. McLemore in the heart of a most-critical needs area of Memphis and is connected to emergency medical services for dispatch in a 10-mile radius.

As part of an initial three-year study to assess its effectiveness, the unit has operated 12-hour days, one week on and one week off. It has answered 1,021 calls, transported 392 patients, who were scanned and determined to have symptoms consistent with stroke, and administered tPA in 72 cases.

Dr. Andrei Alexandrov, chair of the Department of Neurology at UTHSC and director of the Mobile Stroke Unit has said it takes about 3 1/2 minutes to complete a CT scan on the unit. “It takes only 7 minutes from the moment the Mobile Stroke Unit arrives at the scene to the moment we have a definitive diagnosis, having looked at the brain, but also looked at the blood vessels, and we know what type of stroke we’re dealing with and what kind of facility we need to go to with this patient,” he said. By comparison, he said, paramedics in Tennessee are allotted 10 minutes to assess patients with chest pain.

The unit can respond and treat on average 72 minutes faster than traditional hospital response.

Sandlin’s treatment represents a unique case for a mobile stroke unit, Dr. Alexandrov said. “This is the first case where treatment was done right on the tarmac.”

In June, the Mobile Stroke Unit received accreditation from the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) for ensuring patient safety, radiation safety, a commitment to quality, and dedication to continuous improvement. This marked the first time the IAC awarded the prestigious designation to a mobile CT unit.