HARLINGEN & BROWNSVILLE – From the expansion of treatment windows to the cutting-edge use of artificial intelligence to detect and treat catastrophic strokes, information regarding the signs, symptoms, and treatments of stroke continue to evolve at a break-neck pace.

To help medical professionals throughout the Rio Grande Valley stay current on the latest details regarding stroke, Valley Baptist Health System was once again the title sponsor of the annual Comprehensive Stroke Care Symposium, which was held virtually earlier this month.

According to information provided by the Stroke Research and Education Foundation, the organization that hosts the annual symposium, keeping the Valley’s medical community up to speed on stroke care is critical to maintaining and improving the region’s quality of life.

“Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and still the number one cause of long-term adult disabilities. The deep South Texas population is close to 90 percent Hispanic, six times the national average, and the percent of people with diabetes and hypertension in the area are significantly above national average,” event organizers said. “These statistics place our population at increased risk for stroke and it is important to address that risk as well as treatment options.”

Dr. Ameer E. Hassan, DO, FAHA, FSVIN, Head of the Neuroscience Department, Director of Endovascular Surgical Neuroradiology and Director of Clinical Neuroscience Research at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen,said continued stroke education for a wide array of medical professionals directly improves the healthcare local residents receive when dealing with stroke.

“We continue to educate nurses, physician assistants, as well as EMS personnel and doctors not only all across South Texas, but this year virtually around the world,” he said. “This significantly improves the patient care in the Rio Grande Valley by providing the latest information on stroke management as well as treatment.”

Dr. Luis Gaitan, Medical Director of the Stroke Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, served as one of the presenters during the symposium, and provided important information aimed at helping front line medical personnel such as emergency room physicians better diagnose stroke. Faster and more accurate diagnosis can in turn lead to better outcomes, especially in severe types of strokes caused by large vessel occlusions, Gaitan said. Large vessel occlusions are strokes that are caused by a blockage of one of the major arteries of the brain.

“My presentation was related to the various symptoms of stroke and helping medical professionals use those symptoms to determine what part of the brain is being impacted, he said. “It is critical for emergency room physicians to recognize symptoms and determine if a stroke is affecting the left or right side of the brain, or even the brain stem. While strokes caused by large vessel occlusions make up only 20 percent of strokes, they are strokes that can have particularly poor outcomes unless treated aggressively, and a main component of that aggressive treatment is rapid and accurate diagnosis.”

Gaitan said that because ongoing research consistently changes the landscape of stroke treatment, events like the annual stroke care symposium are critical to helping share new information with physicians and other health care providers.

“Treatment for many strokes has changed so much in as little as five years,” he said. “Before, we were treating strokes with just TPA (clot-busting drug) when it was appropriate, but those outcomes weren’t always the best. Now we’ve learned that many of those patients will benefit from mechanical thrombectomy (clot removal) in addition to TPA up to 24 hours post-stroke. By sharing this information, we can help more patients have good outcomes, and that benefits our entire community. The information regarding stroke is constantly evolving, and that is why it is so important for our paramedics, local doctors, and neurologists to continue to learn.”

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to shift the normally in-person symposium to an exclusively virtual event, Hassan said that the virtual format allowed the Stroke Research and Education Foundation to share vital information with a larger segment of the medical community.

“This year our symposium had the largest diverse and international faculty from great institutions all around the world. We have never been asked for the recordings of the presentations as much as we have been for this symposium,” he said. “Several attendees mentioned that our event was a great way to highlight achievements in stroke care over the last one to two years that have been presented at several events in a concise format over a two-day period. Making that information more readily available to medical professionals will benefit communities not only in the Valley, but throughout the world.”

For more information on the signs, symptoms, and latest treatments of stroke, visit https://www.valleybaptist.net/services/neurology-and-neurosurgery.