Patients who suffer mobility and speech problems after a devastating stroke are making a full recovery thanks to a revolutionary new form of treatment.
The clot retrieval service, based at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board , is the only one of its kind in Wales and has shown to greatly improve outcomes when compared with other techniques.
It involves surgically removing a clot which is preventing an artery from supplying blood to the brain – an “intricate and complicated” process according to experts.
Treatment approved by NICE
The typical treatment for a stroke in Wales is to give patients a clot-busting drug which dissolves the clot and hopefully prevents permanent brain damage and disability.
But this pioneering form of treatment, which was approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for NHS use in February, has proven to allow patients to make a full recovery.
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Dr Shakeel Ahmad, clinical lead for stroke and training programme director for stroke, said: “You lose two million brain cells every minute when you suffer a stroke so time is critical.
“These clot-busting drugs are usually effective but for certain groups of people with larger clots they may still be left with severe disabilities.
“The clot retrieval service is an exciting, pioneering treatment, and in the 60 or 70 patients we’ve seen so far it has delivered excellent outcomes.”
Stroke while lifting weights
The clot retrieval service, which requires the expert knowledge of a neuroradiologist, began as a trial at the health board three years ago but now treats life-threatened patients across the country.
One patient to benefit from the treatment is Osman Marks, from Ely, Cardiff, who suffered a stroke while lifting weights in the gym.
The 39-year-old said he owes his life to Dr Ahmad and his team who have allowed him to continue his love of fitness and mixed martial arts.
He said: “I took a funny turn in the when I was training and I couldn’t get my breath back.
“I didn’t think it was anything serious but my mate at the gym Trevor Francis told me to sit down.
“Luckily there was an off-duty paramedic who took a look at me and thought I was having a stroke.”
‘Water was trickling down my mouth’
Within minutes an ambulance had arrived to take him to the University Hospital of Wales for urgent treatment.
“They did loads of tests on me and asked me to touch my leg. I realised that one side of my body was totally numb and when I was drinking water it was trickling down the side of my mouth.”
The dad-of-one, who had been experiencing stress and pains down his neck before the stroke, said he suffered two transient ischaemic attacks (TIA) – or “mini strokes” – within a couple of hours of one another.
“The whole right hemisphere of my head was affected. There was no blood flow in it at all. If the clot hadn’t been taken out quickly I would be in a wheelchair now.”
Within just 24 hours of undergoing the clot retrieval technique, which Osman opted to stay awake for, he had gained almost full mobility.
“I cannot thank them enough,” said the IT consultant.
“Within a month I was running five miles and getting back to my one-to-one boxing sessions.”