By Katie Demeria
WINCHESTER -- Interventional neurologist Dr. Kathleen McConnell can use a tube to suck blood clots out of your brain.
Those clots could cause detrimental strokes or even ruptured aneurysms -- and 50 percent of those who experience ruptured aneurysms do not survive. But McConnell is able to physically adjust the problem in the brain and, hopefully, save lives.
McConnell started with Winchester Neurological Consultants on Jan. 1, returning the interventional neurology department to the practice.
The last interventional neurologist left the program in July 2012, according to Debby Massie, Winchester Medical Center's neuroscience and stroke program manager.
"We recruited pretty aggressively for a replacement," Massie said. "But it's hard to find people in this field -- it is very specialized."
Before McConnell's arrival, patients in the area who suffered from aneurysms or strokes had to be rushed to either Inova Fairfax Hospital or the University of Virginia.
"Time is of the essence with strokes," McConnell said. "After four and a half hours, we can no longer treat with IVTPA, so we have to physically go in and remove the clot or stop the bleeding."
IVTPA is a medication administered through an IV designed to break up clots. If that four and a half hour mark is reached, though, it could cause severe hemorrhages.
Without a local interventional neurologist, patients having strokes or aneurysms had to be sent to other hospitals if either too much time passed, or if severe bleeding, rather than clotting, was causing the danger in the brain.
McConnell uses a catheter to enter the brain and either suck out the clot or insert a coil to stop severe bleeding. Strokes caused by bleeding are even more deadly than those caused by clots -- no medication can stop the rupture, so it must be physically repaired instead.
"It's much safer to have Dr. McConnell here," Massie said. "Transportation can be very dangerous for patients in these situations, when they already had to be transported to our hospital as well."
McConell also said she hopes to increase education services in the area, raising general knowledge about strokes and ruptured aneurysms and how individuals can reduce their risks.
"It is vital that people get to the hospital when they are having a stroke," she said. "As soon as it happens, the clock starts ticking."
The sign of a brain aneurysm, she added, is pretty clear: Individuals will say they are having the worst headache of their life.
"And a lot of times they will just pass out from the pain," McConnell added.
The word FAST can be used to determine whether or not someone is having a stroke, Massie said. FAST stands for face drooping, arm strength, speech difficulty and, finally, time to call 911.
If someone does not receive help in time, strokes could cause severe brain damage, McConnell said.
"The person could never be the same again," she added. "I want people to treat it like a heart attack. It's just as important to take it seriously and get medical attention."
Massie encouraged those who think they are suffering from a stroke to call 911 and be transported by ambulance to the hospital.
"A lot of people don't like to admit that they're having a stroke," Massie said. "They have their families take them instead, but they miss out on the help that EMS teams can give them on the way to the hospital, and they waste time."
High blood pressure can increase the risk for both ruptured aneurysms and stroke, Massie said. She encourages individuals with hypertension to speak with their doctors and take medication if necessary.
"I do think that people just really need to look after themselves," McConnell said.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org