Treatment hope for stroke victims

A radical stroke treatment that removes blood clots from the brain dramatically improves the recovery of stroke victims -- and now a study involving Kiwi patients has proved it.

One young Aucklander made a full recovery from a stroke which might otherwise have left him with severe mobility issues.

The results are being hailed as the biggest scientific advance in the fight against New Zealand's third highest killer in two decades.

Four new studies from Holland, the US, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand have proved the technique, called clot retrieval, works -- though it could be five years before it's rolled out as standard practice in hospitals around the country.

The surgery, which involves inserting a thin tube known as a catheter through the groin and into the brain to pull the clot out, is complex and requires intensive resources.

But University of Auckland neurologist Professor Alan Barber said strokes, which affect 8000 Kiwis each year, cost hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment and rehabilitation.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death after heart disease and cancer, with many survivors left dependent on others to live.

Most strokes occur when a blood clot gets stuck in one of the arteries supplying blood to the brain.

The brain stops working unless the clot breaks down within a few hours.

Until now the treatment was to use a "clot-busting" drug to clear the artery but it only worked about a third of the time.

By comparison clot retrieval is successful 80 per cent of the time.

"If you don't open the artery and restore blood flow back to that particular part of the brain it's all over," Professor Barber said.

"We've gone from being able to open up a third of arteries to 80 per cent, and that is a big advance. It's probably the biggest advance in stroke medicine in the last 20 years."

Under the three-year study 30 Kiwi patients received the advanced treatment.

Professor Barber, the principal investigator for New Zealand in the Australian study, said the results were praised at the International Stroke Conference in the United States last week.

Now he and other stroke experts, including Auckland City Hospital neuroradiologist Dr Ben McGuinness, will make a proposal for a regional service covering Auckland and Northland.

But he said it could be five years before all hospitals use the procedure.

"It's going to take some time to reorganise the way we do things in our hospitals, but this treatment represents a paradigm shift in the way we will treat stroke patients."

Natalie Akoorie of the New Zealand Herald

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