Each May, Stroke Awareness Month is observed in the U.S. The goal is to educate about the warning signs of stroke, what to do in the event of a stroke, the latest treatment options, and more importantly, how to reduce your chances of becoming a stroke victim.
At Grady Hospital’s Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center, those four goals and many more are on the daily check list for Georgia State alum Karen Seagraves. As Executive Director, Karen leads one of the best and busiest neuroscience centers in the nation.
“In 2015, Grady neurosciences experienced an 18% patient volume growth and discharged more than 1200 patients who had a primary diagnosis of stroke. For us, that validates the need for the specialized, state-of-the-art care and services we provide,” said Seagraves. “Additional validation comes from the fact that more than 70 hospitals transfer patients to us. We’ve had some from as far away as north Florida because the clinical expertise they need is only available here.”
The Marcus Center’s specialization in stroke thrombectomy has helped change the medical world’s view of stroke treatment and has resulted in dramatically improved outcomes for stroke patients.
“Until last year, the procedures our neurointerventionalists had been doing for several years were considered experimental,” said Seagraves. “But that all changed at the International Stroke Conference when it was announced that thrombectomy, removing the blood clot from the brain during an active stroke, is the new standard of treatment. That was such an exciting moment, not just for the Grady team, but for the thousands of stroke patients who will benefit from the procedure and live full, productive lives.”
With the Southeastern United States having the dubious distinction of being the nation’s “Stroke Belt,” Seagraves and the Grady team are always looking for ways to prevent stroke, decrease the effects of stroke and increase access to the center’s lifesaving treatments.
“Because stoke is more common in the southeast than any other region in the country, it’s important that we do what we can to educate not just the public, but also other healthcare providers about one of the most important factors for effective stroke care – time,” Seagraves said.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke quickly can greatly improve survival and outcomes, according the Seagraves.
“Grady recognized the importance of rapid stroke assessment and treatment long ago, when it became the first public hospital in the nation to have a 24/7 stroke team. Grady also played a key role in securing FDA approval of the clot-busting drug tPA, which is marking its 20th anniversary this year of being the go-to drug of treatment for ischemic stroke. But none of our interventions work well if the patient doesn’t get to the right hospital as quickly as possible. Time equals brain,” said Seagraves.
To save brain, the Marcus Stroke Center shares its best practices with hospitals and first responders across the state, working to improve stroke care and provider knowledge as Georgia’s lead hospital for the state’s Centers for Disease Control’s Coverdell Acute Stroke Program – named for former Georgia Congressman Paul Coverdell who died as a result of a stroke.
“We’re very proud of the work we are doing through the Coverdell program and even more proud of the advances in stroke care in Georgia that have resulted from that work,” Seagraves said.
And with all that’s already going on, Seagraves is preparing for a significant expansion of the Marcus Neuroscience Center and its capabilities. Work is scheduled to begin soon on a new outpatient center that will bring the talents of neurologists and neurosurgeons together in one multidisciplinary clinic.
“It’s an exciting time for me on many fronts,” said Seagraves. “The creation of the new center and the expansion of our outpatient services and research capabilities will help Grady take patient care to a whole new level. During all this, I’m back at Georgia State, where I earned my Masters in nursing, working on my PhD. So much of my focus is on academic research right now, which in turn helps me better facilitate the research and teaching aspect of the stoke center. Advancing my skills allows me to help our physicians advance patient care, and that’s why I am here.”