Life-saving mobile stroke unit expands to Brooklyn, Queens

BROOKLYN — From the outside it may look like nothing more than a normal ambulance, but the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit, or MSTU, is much more than meets the eye.

"It's like taking a part of the emergency department of a hospital, putting it on wheels, and rolling it out into the community," said Dr. Matthew Fink, neurologist-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

New York Presbyterian was the first hospital to deploy the program on the East Coast and is one of only a handful of hospitals in the country using a mobile stroke unit. They expanded the service to Brooklyn and Queens on Tuesday.

Every year, more than 800,000 people suffer from stroke due to a blockage in the brain.

What sets the Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit apart from regular ambulances lies in a CAT scan inside the vehicle. That allows patients to get a diagnosis almost 40 minutes faster than if they had to go to the hospital first.

"The importance of stroke treatment is to deliver it as fast as you can," said Dr. Gary Bernardini, chief of Neurology at NYP Queens. "We have a saying called 'time is brain.' The sooner, the better."

That's because a brain loses almost 2 million neurons every minute that a person goes without oxygen.

Thanks to real-time results on the MSTU combined with advances in telemedicine, a neurologist back at the hospital can evaluate the CAT scan results from the field in minutes. If they see a blockage in the brain, the paramedics can administer the blood clot busting drug known as TPA right away.

"And by doing that and delivering the treatment so rapidly, we have the ability to completely reverse the effects of a stroke and return people back to completely normal health," Fink said.

And thanks to the partnership with the FDNY, all a patient has to do is mention they think they're having a stroke when they call 911 and MTSU will be on the way.