Moses Pimentel sits near the CT scan machine at Victoria General Hospital

Stopping strokes before they hit

VIHA and Genome B.C. have launched a $10 million project in Victoria to make the warning signs of stroke easy to detect

When Moses Pimentel found himself collapsed on his bathroom floor one Sunday morning last June, a stroke wasn’t the first ailment that came to mind. He even wondered why his wife called an ambulance.

Paramedics conducted a rapid assessment on the fit, healthy, 47-year-old Saanich parks staffer, and found telltale left body paralysis. They rushed him to the care of Dr. Andrew Penn, a neurologist at Victoria General Hospital.

Penn and his staff at VGH, the nucleus of stroke care for Vancouver Island, found Pimentel’s underlying heart defect that triggered the stroke, but it was that rapid response that was crucial in preventing lasting damage. Pimentel regained control of his body the same day, was out of hospital in six days and back to work in two months.

“Without that rapid assessment who knows what would have happened? I have a physical job and a family to take care of,” Pimentel, who manages invasive species in Saanich parks, said at VGH on Thursday. “I’m not sure what I would have done.”

Recognizing that quick and early detection of strokes can save lives and medical resources, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Genome B.C. have launched a $10 million project that will give emergency room doctors a tool for nearly instantaneous diagnosis of a minor stroke, called a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

“If you think of stroke as an earthquake, a TIA is the rumbling before the earthquake,” Penn said during the project announcement at VGH.

About 10 per cent of minor strokes lead to full-blown major strokes within two days, but diagnosing a TIA is difficult and pricey. Less acute medical problems such as dizziness and severe headaches can look like a TIA, but it can take considerable medical resources to separate the mimics form the real thing.

“There are about 30 mimics of TIAs for different (medical) conditions,” Penn said. “The full meal ticket is expensive. To investigate a TIA costs thousands of dollars involving dyes, radiation, CT scans or MRIs.”

In 2004, VIHA allowed Penn to set up a stroke rapid assessment unit at VGH, which in turn allowed him to amass the largest stroke database in the world from 11,000 patients across Vancouver Island. About 4,000 blood samples from that database will allow the University of Victoria’s Genome B.C. Proteomics Centre at the Vancouver Island Tech Park to crunch through reams of data, all to find the signal set of proteins associated with a TIA.

If researchers can nail down the pattern of proteins released by the brain during a TIA event, diagnosing a TIA could become a relatively simple blood test, rather than time-consuming brain scans. The project, the largest in VIHA’s history, expects to see results within four years.

VIHA took a gamble and set up a TIA unit to rapidly assess a TIA before a stroke hit. The project was a great success … in two years we’ve saved some 150 strokes on Vancouver Island,” Penn noted. “But with that success came failure – we were flooded with patients, but about half weren’t TIAs. They might be migraines or seizures or other things that might not need urgent care (in the ER). We needed a blood test to differentiate those who needed urgent care.”

Dr. Brad Popovich, the chief scientific officer for Genome B.C., said it’s hard to overstate the importance of Penn’s database of Vancouver Island stroke patients. It holds more stroke information than any other major medical centre in the U.S. and Europe due to VIHA’s centralized system, and was key to unlocking $10 million to get quick TIA detection off the ground.

“The funding for this project addresses critical and immediate needs,” Popovich said. “Stroke is the No. 1 cause of adult disability and stroke patients are the leading users of long term care in Canada. This (TIA test) will be better, cheaper, faster … this will bring tangible results to British Columbians and beyond.”

VIHA estimates rapid TIA detection technology will help doctors prevent 4,000 strokes per year in Canada, cut risks for patients due to the use of radioactive dyes during the diagnosis, cut costs to the health system in terms of patient care, and allow for better use of MRI and CT scan machines.

At VGH, the stroke assessment unit is set to expand into the hospital’s former emergency wing (the new emergency centre opened in 2009), which will give the stroke team six exam rooms and four offices, up from two rooms now.

“Health professionals want to improve stroke care. A lot of people don’t understand the devastating affects on the lives, livelihood and families of stroke victims,” said VIHA board chair Don Hubbard. “That is why this research is so important.”

editor@saanichnews.com

 

Just Posted

Police investigating ‘unprovoked attack’ at Uptown bus stop

Man was attacked while waiting at Douglas St bus stop Sunday night

Intense winds could reach 70km in Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issued wind warning for Dec. 17

Each Canadian household spent almost $64,000 on goods and services in 2017

Households in B.C. each spent $71,001 with housing costs contributing to higher average

Saanich police are seeking suspect in sexual assault report

Incident happened early Saturday morning near Rudd Park

Juno Award-winner laying the Hammer down in Victoria

Jazz and boogie woogie pianist Michael Kaeshammer returns to where it all began

Langford elementary school kids test their hand at entrepreneurship

Students sold their own products at a Young Entrepreneurs Fair Friday

POLL: Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?

The rain Vancouver Island is famous for is coming down in buckets,… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 11, 2018

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

‘Spider-Verse’ swings to the top; ‘Mortal Engines’ tanks

“Spider-Verse” has been very well-received among critics, and audiences in exit surveys gave it a rare A+ CinemaScore.

Speaker at rally says Alberta oil ‘puts tofu on the table in Toronto!’

RCMP estimated more than 1,500 people attended the rally in Grande Prairie

White House closer to partial shutdown with wall demand

Without a resolution, parts of the federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21

Struggling Vancouver Island family needs help after baby born two months premature

A GoFundMe page has been set up as a difficult pregnancy and a long stay in Victoria have left the family struggling to get by

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Most Read