The call came in from a healthfacility hours away from Edmonton’sUniversity of Alberta Hospital. Apatient was experiencing vertigo—possibly a stroke. If it were a stroke, bythe time she could be transferred to thecity, millions of her brain cells could bedestroyed.
Instead, Canada’s only strokeambulance was dispatched. Itintercepted an ambulance racing thepatient toward Edmonton. After runninga CT scan in the vehicle and examiningthe patient via video conference, doctorsconfirmed the woman was having acerebellar stroke.
She was given clot-busting drugs andher condition started improving withinan hour. Today, the woman, in her 50s, isfully recovered.
Alberta’s stroke ambulance is the
first of its kind in Canada, and the
only one in the world focused on rural
patients. The ambulance has a CT
scanner, lab equipment, and video and
audio capabilities. On board are two
paramedics, an emergency nurse, a
diagnostic technologist and a physician
trainee. There are fewer than two dozen
such ambulances in the world.
Dr. Ashfaq Shuaib is the director of theUniversity of Alberta Hospital’s strokeprogram. When he learned about thestroke ambulance idea, he lobbied tohave one in Alberta.
He teamed with Dr. Tom Jeerakathil,a neurologist with the Alberta HealthServices Cardiovascular Health andStroke Strategic Clinical Network.They received $3.2 million for a pilotproject from the University HospitalFoundation. Alberta Innovates alsocontributed.
About 6,500 Albertans have strokes
each year. The stroke ambulance serves
rural Albertans who live within a couple
of hours of the ambulance’s base at the
University of Alberta Hospital. This
includes communities such as Slave Lake
and Vegreville, whose hospitals are not
equipped to handle acute strokes.
Time is of the essence to minimizestroke’s harm. Stroke victims can losetwo million brain cells a minute beforetreatment is started.
When someone is diagnosed witha potential stroke, they are sent in anambulance toward Edmonton and thestroke ambulance heads out to meetthem midway at a safe rendezvouspoint. In most cases, patients areassessed and treated on the spot. Abouttwo-thirds of patients are diagnosedwith a stroke.
Since the program began in 2017, ithas been deployed 95 times. Last year, itreceived the Paramedic Chiefs of CanadaInnovative Treatment or Technologyaward.
Stroke ambulance starts treatment
when it can do the most good
WRITTEN BY DOUG FIRBY