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Stroke survivor credits life-changing RAPID software

35-year-old Hilary Philipp woke one morning to the alarming realization that she couldn’t speak clearly or move the entire right side of her body. Hilary was having a severe ischemic stroke, where a blood clot was blocking blood flow to the left side of her brain. Thankfully, new technology at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) led her doctor to another life-saving option.

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Stroke survivor credits life-changing RAPID software

RAPID software widens window for stroke treatment

The paramedics knew Hilary had severe stroke symptoms and alerted Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) that she would need immediate stroke care. Because AGH is a designated Comprehensive Stroke Center, a stroke team that includes neurologists, neurosurgeons, interventional radiologists, and emergency physicians is available 24/7 to collaborate and care for patients with stroke symptoms.

“When Hilary arrived in the emergency department, our stroke team got to work,” said Russell Cerejo, MD, a board-certified neurologist and vascular neurologist (stroke specialist). “Computed tomography (CT) scans showed that she was having a severe stroke. If not treated, it would likely leave her disabled for life.”

Because Hilary woke up with the stroke, the team wasn’t aware of how long the stroke had been going on. They would need more information before treating her. Patients are typically eligible for a minimally invasive, clot-removing procedure within just six hours of the onset of stroke symptoms.

But to Hilary’s benefit, AHN uses a new state-of-art technology called RAPID™ software in December 2017 for several of their hospitals. This automated software uses artificial intelligence to rapidly process the CT scans and give the neurologist vital information about how blood is flowing in the brain and if it is best to intervene. RAPID identifies which area of the brain has been damaged, and which part is still healthy and viable. For patients like Hilary, it opens up the treatment window from six to 24 hours.

Endovascular procedure offers improved stroke recovery

“The RAPID™ software showed us that only a small area of Hilary’s brain was damaged, but a lot of it was still restorable if we were able to restore normal blood flow,” said Dr. Cerejo. “We knew we still had time to use an endovascular – minimally invasive – procedure to remove the clot.”

With this information in hand, Hilary was taken to the endovascular lab for life-altering, leading-edge stroke treatment. Dr. Cerejo used a local anesthetic to numb the groin area. A tiny incision was made. Then, using advanced imaging techniques, Dr. Cerejo threaded a catheter through the femoral artery (that starts in the groin) all the way to the region of the brain where the clot was blocking the vessel. 

Dr. Cerejo used a wire cage known as a stent retriever at the tip of the catheter. The cage grabbed the clot and trapped it, so the doctor could pull the catheter – with the clot attached – back out of the body.

Awake and comfortable throughout the procedure, Hilary immediately got sensation back to her arm, leg and mouth. “As soon as they removed the clot, I could move my right hand,” said Hilary. “The first thing I did when they wheeled me into recovery was grab my boyfriend’s hand with my right hand, so he knew I was OK.”

Despite stroke, Hilary continues to make music

Hilary spent two nights at AGH being observed for any long term stroke effects. She felt tired for a few weeks after but didn’t need speech or physical therapy. “I couldn’t be happier with the care I received from Dr. Cerejo and the entire stroke team,” said Hilary. “I’m grateful for how quickly they acted to get me the advanced treatment I needed. The EMS crew and stroke team knew time was critical to my recovery … Dr. Cerejo and his team saved my career. As a professional musician I use my right hand to play the oboe. Without the quick, skilled and technologically-advanced care from AGH, I’m not sure I’d be playing music today.”

In hindsight, Hilary realizes that she’d likely had three ministrokes, known as transient ischemic attacks (TIA), in the previous year. “Hopefully my story lets others know that stroke can happen to anyone,” said Hilary. “Trust your gut and seek care from a neurologist if you lose sensation in your hands, arms, legs or feet or if you experience slurred speech. They are a warning that something is very wrong.”

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