Wellstar docs use new tool to remove blood clots after strokes

Apr. 30—Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But doctors at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital are trying to change how strokes affect people, with the help of a new gadget.

The Tigertriever, made by Israeli company Rapid Medical, received Food and Drug Administration approval in March. It will soon be a primary tool for removing blood clots in emergency surgery, said Dr. Rishi Gupta, a vascular neurologist with Wellstar.

The device is made to remove clots in major brain arteries after strokes caused by a large vessel occlusion (LVO). Current technology for this operation consists of stent retrievers — small mesh tubes used to pull blood clots from arteries, enabling blood flow to the brain.

"The problem with that technology is they have a uniform sizing. ... so, there's no adjustment to individual blood vessel sizes," Gupta said.

That's where the Tigertriever comes in. The tool's novelty is a control handle that adjusts the device's diameter, improving blood clot retrieval. The tool was already approved in Europe and as of late March, had been used to treat more than 5,000 patients, according to Rapid Medical.

Gupta first learned of the device in 2015 and went on to serve as a national co-principal investigator for FDA trials of the device, using it to operate on patients in Marietta. Typically, between 40-45% of patients that suffer an LVO will be able to return to living an independent, normal life, Gupta said. In clinical trials for the Tigertriever, that rate jumped to 58%.

The impact of the device could be significant. Kennestone sees about 330 LVO patients every year, averaging about one per day, Gupta said.

LVOs pose significant risks in terms of mortality and disability. Gupta said strokes often present a quality versus quantity issue due to their debilitating long-term effects on survivors' brain function. He hopes the device will improve stroke survivability and functional outcomes for survivors.

Risk factors for stroke include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Georgia is part of the "Stroke Belt" — the Southeast has higher rates of stroke than the rest of the country. The cause is still debated, but guesses range from genetics to sedentary lifestyles to diets high in fried food, Gupta said.

The rollout of the device is well-timed with May being National Stroke Awareness Month. Wellstar is promoting the "BE FAST" slogan that spells out stroke signs and actions to take. It stands for Balance (loss thereof), Eyes (vision loss), Face (drooping), Arms (weakness/numbness), Speech (slurring/difficulty) and Time (call 911 quickly).

Speed in reporting strokes and receiving treatment, Gutpa said, is still the biggest challenge in stroke care.

"Speed and time and efficiency ... every minute counts toward restoring brain function," Gupta said.