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Recently this month, the West Coast’s first Mobile Stroke Unit started responding to stroke calls in Torrance, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena and Carson.

“After a patient has a stroke, every minute matters,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn (Fourth District) during the news conference presenting the UCLA Mobile Stroke Unit.

“If we can get a person experiencing a stroke the treatment they need quickly, we not only increase their chance of survival, we increase the chance that they completely avoid the debilitating brain damage that a stroke could cause.” 

The UCLA trial program is one of seven in the U.S. participating in a national study. Launched in Sept. 2017, with the support of the LA County Board of Supervisors and LA County EMS, the one single UCLA Mobile Stroke Unit is operational seven days a week on a rotating schedule between Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hawaiian Gardens, Signal Hill, Lakewood, La Mirada, Cerritos, Artesia, Bellflower and Paramount.

The unit will operate in the following South Bay cities every Friday, Saturday and Sunday: Torrance, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena and Carson.

Some stroke medications are usually given in the emergency room, but the paramedics in the new unit will be able to deliver proven stroke treatments to patients faster than ever before thanks to the specially-equipped ambulance. A mobile CT scanner: point-of-care lab testing equipment; and tele-health connections with vascular neurologists, are all on board the unit.

“We can inform the hospital while we are coming in,” said Dr. May Nour, medical director of the UCLA Arline and Henry Gluck Stroke Rescue Program.

If the study, to be completed in 2021, determines that the mobile unit’s technology and early administration of clot-busting medication is beneficial to patients in the field, it’s hoped that services can be expanded throughout the County and the United States.

According to UCLA Health, one in six Americans will experience a stroke in their lifetime. This occurs when a vessel in the brain is blocked by a blood clot or ruptures. Three-quarters of strokes occur in people over the age of 65.

“The fact of the matter is we have an aging population,” Hahn said. “Unfortunately, my own dad suffered a stroke and suffered the final 10 years of his life paralyzed on his entire left side.”

Hahn recalled that her father’s doctor inspired then-LA County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn to launch the paramedics program 50 years ago. Today there are paramedic units across the nation.

“I hope this Mobile Stroke Unit follows that same path,” she said.

“We have more stroke centers in Los Angeles County than most states,” Clayton Kazan, medical director for the County of LA Fire Department, said when asked about services in the rest of the county not yet served by the new units. “The hospitals are really geared to provide that care quickly.”

“With about 50 stroke centers and 18 comprehensive stroke centers, its rare that you’re that far away from one,” he added. “If you took the Mobile Stroke Unit out, we are still cutting edge in how we move stroke patients around our system. 

“The Mobile Stroke Unit is just another attempt to take a leap forward, beyond the cutting edge.”

Kazan said that some stroke victims tend to wait and see if their symptoms get better. Not a good idea.

“If you call 911, we’ll not only make sure you go to a stroke hospital, but we’ll triage you to determine if it’s a primary or comprehensive stroke based on your symptoms.” Kazan said.

Kazan said that increased awareness and the acronym “B.E.F.A.S.T.” could help stroke victims and bystanders, should these signs appear: 

Balance—Notice any irregularities in ability to balance or sudden loss of coordination

Eyes—Notice any inability to focus or sudden change in vision

Facial—Are facial muscles on one side drooping? Ask the person to smile

Arm—Is there soreness and pain in the arm? Ask them to raise both arms and see if one drifts downward

Speech—Is speech slurred? Ask them to repeat a simple phrase

Time to call 911 if you observe any of these signs.