2 Chicago-area mobile stroke units poised to start operating

WINFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Two suburban Chicago hospitals plan to launch mobile units this year that are designed to quickly get lifesaving treatment to stroke victims.

The Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Rush University Medical Center mobile stroke units will be the first of their kind in the Chicago area. The ambulances will carry CT scanners, video-conferencing equipment and clot-dissolving medication that can restore blood flow.

"I think this will be the standard of care as time goes by. It's a phenomenal technology to have," Dr. Harish Shownkeen, medical director for stroke and neurovascular medicine at Central DuPage, told the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald. "The treatment hasn't changed; it's the initiating of the treatment that has made the quantum leap."

Doctors say the mobile units are valuable because they allow treatment to begin sooner, making a huge difference in patients' recoveries.

"Time really is of the essence," said Dr. James Conners, section head of cerebrovascular disease at Rush University Medical Center. "For every minute that goes by of a blockage in the brain, you lose about 2 million brain cells."

Northwestern Medicine's unit will launch this month and Rush University plans to have its unit live in early March. If it's determined the patient isn't having a stroke the unit will leave and a traditional ambulance will take over.

Rush University's unit initially will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Illinois Department of Public Health statistics show that strokes are the third-leading cause of death in the state and more than 5,300 people died from strokes in Illinois in 2010, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Rush Hospital unit cost about $950,000 and is expected to cost between $950,000 and $1.2 million annually to operate, hospital officials said. It will be funded by a grant from The Grainger Foundation. Northwestern officials said they are paying for the unit with a grant from the Northwestern Memorial Foundation.