By Dr. Justin Fairless
May is National Stroke Awareness Month. It was elevated for recognition by former President George H.W. Bush for a significant reason.
A stroke occurs in the United States approximately once every forty seconds and remains the leading cause of long-term disability that Americans face.
Consequently, almost everyone has a connection to someone who has had a stroke, whether it be a friend or family member. Strokes can be terrifying for those who suffer them, either personally or for loved ones as well.
Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is stopped, either from a hemorrhage within the brain or because of a blood clot. The brain literally starts to die one cell at a time.
The unfortunately result of a stroke is something we see in our daily lives. We have all seen those individuals in public, displaying the signs of a previous stroke; limited bodily function and mobility in their arms, legs, and face.
None of us wants to suffer this fate. The good news is that strokes are largely preventable, treatable, and beatable if treated quickly.
Since around two million brain cells die each minute that a stroke goes untreated, every minute counts and awareness and quick treatment are crucial to minimizing the debilitating, long-term effects.
This May, a coalition of medical professionals known as “Save Our Air Medical Resources” (SOARcampaign.com) is working hard to ensure that access to air medical helicopter transport, a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to treating sudden events like stroke and heart attacks, is not jeopardized here in Texas or across the country.
Twenty-two percent of our country’s hospitals have closed since 1990 and unfortunately this vital service is threatened by the same economic and political vice grip that has affecting many aspects of healthcare.
Thankfully, Texans are leading the way to making sure this service is not lost for those of us who need it.
In our Texas State Legislature, Dr. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), who serves as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has filed House Bill 935 to address keeping this vital service alive and well in our state.
On the national level, in the last Congress, Texas Congressmen Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) and Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) led the way in supporting H.R. 822 to improve and update Medicare reimbursements for air medical transport services. While H.B. 822 fell short, new legislation will be filed that aims to preserve this vital service nationwide.
Life-threatening emergencies, such as strokes, heart attacks, and major trauma urgently demand the right care and the right facility. As hospitals continue to close their doors and distances between patients and the critical care facilities become greater, air medical transport is more important than ever.
At present, eighty-five million Americans — only one in four of us — can reach a Level I or Level II trauma care facility within an hour of an accident happening only if they are flown by helicopter. The same can be said for specialty cardiac and stroke centers when these emergencies occur.
Fortunately, air medical transport professionals (flight nurses and paramedics) are trained to manage and treat stroke patients and get them to the right facility, a stroke center capable of treatment — quickly.
National Stroke Awareness Month is an important time each year to raise awareness about how to prevent and treat strokes, and to focus on the life-saving care that thousands of stroke patients require. Preserving emergency air medical services is a critically important piece to this puzzle.
Fairless is a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and currently serves as the medical director for Native Air Texas and New Mexico Air Ambulance (Air Methods Corporation.)