Vacuum Cleaner for the Brain

8/27/2008 COLUMBUS, Ohio A year ago, Susan Fargel-McIntosh had a stroke. She was paralyzed on her right side and was unable to speak.

"I came downstairs to feed the dogs and I dropped the bowl of dog food and I couldn't figure out why I dropped it," Fargel-McIntosh told Ivanhoe. "I thought, you know, I feel kind of funny. I'm going to go in the living room and lay down … and I just fell on the floor."

When she got to the hospital, it had been three hours since her symptoms first started -- too late to use TPA -- the standard stroke treatment. But there was still time to use a new tool called Penumbra.

"By going up to eight hours, we're expanding that window of time that you can get a patient to the hospital and treat them but you're also not giving them a strong drug necessarily so there's a theoretical chance that you're going to have less chance of the bleeding," Ronald F. Budzik Jr., M.D., a neuroradiologist and lead researcher at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Ivanhoe.

A catheter goes from a small incision in the groin through blood vessels up to the blockage in the brain. Penumbra suctions out the clot. A new study shows it restored blood flow in 82 percent of 125 patients. Sixty percent were better neurologically.

"The first time with the device that we got the vessel open, it was one of those things that makes you get the chills and you shiver and we were high-fiving everybody in the room because the patient just starts talking to us and she had not been able to talk previously," Dr. Budzik said.

That's what happened to Fargel-McIntosh.

"He asked me how I was and I said, 'I'm fine,' and I could actually talk and then I could feel my fingers," she said.

Fargel-McIntosh made a complete recovery. The only symptom she says she has is sometimes her handwriting is a little shaky.

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