New Findings Could Save Lives of More Stroke Patients
When is a doctor liable for a stroke-related death? And are there any steps a doctor can take to prevent death in a stroke patient? According to a recent article in The New York Times, a new study indicates that there may be a clear way to prevent stroke victims from suffering serious disabilities or dying as a result of the stroke. What can doctors do? The article highlights how “many more stroke victims than previously thought can be saved from disability or death if doctors remove blood clots that are choking off circulation to the brain.” To put the findings another way, researchers have learned that there may be more time than physicians previously expected to rescue a patient’s brain cells by removing a blood clot.
What else do patients and their families need to know about this study and how it could affect stroke victims’ ability to survive? And could a doctor who fails to abide by the study be liable for medical negligence?
Expanded Time Window for Saving a Stroke Patient from Disability or Death
As the article underscores, the “key finding is that there is often more time than doctors realized in which brain cells can still be rescued by a procedure to remove the clot.” Up until now, traditional thinking said that doctors only had up to six hours after a patient began exhibiting stroke symptoms to save them from serious disability or death. To be sure, “traditional guidelines . . . said after that it would be too late to help.” However, this new study could change the way doctors approach stroke patients.
Now, according to the study, stroke victims could have up to 16 hours after the onset of symptoms to avoid disability or death. Doctors would need to perform a thrombectomy (an emergency blood clot removal procedure) within that period of time. At the same time, the study does not necessarily apply to all stroke victims. The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and received support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
How a Thrombectomy Might Help Some Stroke Victims
The authors of the study suggest that a thrombectomy, “which uses a mechanical device to pull clots out of a blood vessel,” may be able to help about 50 percent of stroke patients. In order to determine how many patients would be helped by the procedure, the researchers performed a specific type of brain imaging to look for “live brain tissue that could be saved if the blood supply was restored.” The researchers looked at 182 stroke cases at 38 different hospitals to reach their conclusion.
How did the thrombectomy patients fare in the long run? According to the article, 90 days after the thrombectomy, nearly half of the patients were classified as “functionally independent.” For patients who did not have the thrombectomy, only 17 percent received the same classification. The death rate for thrombectomy patients was at 14 percent, while the death rate for those who did not have the procedure was 26 percent.
Given that around 750,000 people will suffer a stroke each year, the thrombectomy could be a life-changing procedure for many of these patients. Indeed, according to the director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “these striking results will have an immediate impact and save people from lifelong disability or death.”