Swedish Medical Center in Englewood has new stroke treatment

Dr. Donald Frei moved the separator through the catheter used to treat a stroke where a blood clot blocks the blood supply to the brain. Swedish Medical Center is using the system. Photo by Tom Munds
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In past years, clot-busting medication was the primary treatment for an ischemic stroke, where a clot cuts off blood supply to part of the brain. But Swedish Medical Center is using new technology that, in many cases, can reach and remove the clot.

“Our center treats 20 to 30 stroke patients a month,” said Dr. Donald Frei, the neurointerventional radiologist at Swedish. “We are one of 20 hospitals doing a pilot program study on an improved catheter system that is inserted in the blocked artery. The innovation is the separator that is inserted into the catheter and through the clot. Then the separator then grabs the clot, drawing it back into the catheter, where suction removes it from the artery.”

The device is called the Penumbra MAX System Reperfusion Catheter, and Frei said the device is important because, in stroke treatment, time is everything.

“The saying in stroke treatment is that time is brain,” he said. “That is because cutting off blood supply to any part of the brain means 30,000 brain cells die every second.”

Swedish is the only hospital in the Rocky Mountain area using the new technology.

Frei said there are 800,000 strokes a year in the U.S., and 15 percent are the type where a clot blocks a major artery to the brain. He said the device could be used to help treat about 120,000 patients a year.

For many years, the best available treatment for blocked arteries in the brain used so-called “clot buster” medication to break up the blockage. It saved many lives and helped many stroke victims recover, even though there were potentially serious side effects.

More recently, treatment also could involve the use of catheters attached to suction to try to draw the clot out of the artery. The catheter treatment was an advance in stroke treatment that wasn't available 15 to 20 years ago. The MAX system improves on the catheter technology, Frei said.

Area residents are fortunate because Swedish Medical Center is one of only two or three comprehensive stroke treatment centers in Colorado where there is the equipment and the specialists to provide several treatment options.

Broomfield resident Ron Rimer can attest to the fact the clot removal system works and works well.

“I had a stroke the day after Easter. I was here at home, I passed out, my wife called 911 and they airlifted me to Swedish Medical Center,” he said. “I don't remember any of it, but they tell me they ran a catheter into an artery in my groin and up to the brain where a blood clot was blocking the flow of blood. They used the catheter to remove the clot and saved me. Six days later, I was well enough to go home.”

Rimer, 80, said he feels great, he is once again playing golf a couple times a week and there are no permanent effects from the stroke.

“I am a living example that it is important for a stroke victim to get attention quickly. As the doctor said, quick treatment can be the difference between life and death,” he said.