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Mobile Medical Unit Gets Trial Run in Houston

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Blood clots in the brain are some scary business. Luckily, we now have what's been called "the first" mobile stroke unit in the nation in operation since late last month. It has some fancy equipment, but most important, it has people on board who can administer tPA, the clot-busting medication known as tissue plasminogen activator.

So, what's it like to have a stroke?

Maureen Osaka explains in a statement from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center:

"I felt so weak, I couldn't use my hand and I was so dizzy," said Osaka. "I couldn't stand up so I started crawling from the living room to my bedroom, thinking I was going to lie down and go to sleep to hopefully feel better - I didn't know what was going on. But before I could make it to my room, the whole left side of my body stopped working and I could no longer see, so I made it to the phone and blindly started dialing the only numbers I knew."

Osaka was one of the unit's first patients when it was dispatched downtown.

The unit is an ambulance that's fitted with a CT scanner to help the crew determine if a patient is suffering from a stroke, and of course the major ingredient for saving a stroke victim's life, tPA.

"tPA is the only FDA-approved treatment for an ischemic stroke, but it must be given within three hours of the first signs of stroke to be most effective," Dr. James Grotta, director of stroke research at Memorial Hermann-TMC, said. "It typically takes an hour once a stroke patient arrives in the emergency room to receive treatment, and that's not counting transport time. In these situations, every minute -- every second -- counts, so the earlier the clinical team can intervene, the better the outcome."

The stroke unit part of a three-year clinical trial at UT Health, according to a press release, is being run in conjunction with the Emergency Medical Services of the Houston Fire Department, Bellaire Fire Department and West University Fire Department. It carries a paramedic, neurologist, nurse and CT technician and runs alternate weeks.

Part of the more than $1 million cost was donated by the likes of Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale (a former stroke patient). The ambulance will be located at The University of Texas Professional Building in the Texas Medical Center.

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