Hero doctors perform miracle surgeries on life-threatening stroke victims

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The race is on for more hospitals to be equipped with the technology to extract deadly blood clots that cause strokes from the brain, stopping catastrophic damage.

Finbar Sheaman collapsed while jogging near his east London home

Doctors are using a pioneering new procedure to save life-threatening stroke patients.

Operations performed at a London hospital use a special machine to extract deadly disease-causing blood clots from the brain, saving vital time and stopping catastrophic damage.

Now the race is on for more hospitals to be equipped with this technology.

It comes as parts of the UK reported the highest cases for a decade last year – and there are fears that strokes caused by Covid-19 infections may have driven the surge.

The country’s busiest stroke unit is at the Royal London Hospital, one of the few of our hospitals to use pioneering mechanical thrombectomy, a procedure in which clots are removed from the cerebral artery using of a stent.

But it takes more to prevent patients facing a postcode lottery from saving their lives.







Dr Oli Spooner is a stroke consultant at the Royal London Hospital
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Reach Commissioned/Steve Bainbridge)


The team of RLH consultants Paul Bhogal and Oliver Spooner treated 260 stroke patients last year – the highest number ever from a center in England, and three times the number they treated in 2020 .

They treated blue-lit cases around 100 miles away as far away as Norwich and Peterborough.

Dr Spooner said: “There is pressure on services, especially as we come out of the pandemic. If you live in central London, where you have access to mechanical thrombectomy 24/7, you’re in luck.

“As you start to move away from London, your access becomes much more uneven.”

Among the 260 who had surgery last year was Finbar Sheaman.







Finbar Sheaman collapsed while jogging near his east London home
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Image:

Reach Commissioned/Steve Bainbridge)


The then 40-year-old dad suffered a stroke while jogging near Whitechapel Hospital in east London last April.

Every minute counts for stroke survival and when he was admitted he was unable to move his right side or process speech.

Within hours, Dr. Bhogal, head of the hospital’s Mechanical Stroke Thrombectomy Network, removed the clot from his brain and restored blood flow to prevent the death of millions of cells.

The operation can take less than 20 minutes, saving vital time for patients who can lose almost two million brain cells every 60 seconds during a stroke.







Dr Oli Spooner and Mr Paul Bhogal in the operating room with the biplane
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Image:

Reach Commissioned/Steve Bainbridge)


Five days later, Finbar, from Forest Gate, East London, was dismissed from his job – and after two months he returned to his job as a software technician.

He’s back to racing and has a second child on the way with his wife. Finbar said: “I feel so lucky that the procedure was possible for me so quickly.

“Every hospital should have one of these machines.”

Strokes cause around 38,000 deaths a year and are the leading cause of severe disability in Britain. The consequences of the pandemic threaten to increase stroke deaths.







Dr Spooner and Paul Bhogal with Christine Syer and her husband Stephen at the Royal London Hospital
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Image:

Reach Commissioned/Steve Bainbridge)


Dr Spooner added: “In people with severe Covid there is a problem where you can form clots in your arteries leading to strokes.

“At the start of 2021, this was a big problem.” We were shown around the £1.5million biplane angiography suite where mechanical thrombectomies are performed. But doctors’ aim to treat more patients this year is being hampered by ambulance delays.

Response time for conditions like stroke averaged more than 51 minutes last month, three times the target of 18 minutes. Dr Spooner, 38, said: ‘The expansion we hope to see is limited by ambulance pressures.

“This urgent transfer is so crucial. Saving precious minutes will mean more patients treated.

While official stroke death figures for England have yet to be released, in January Public Health Scotland revealed an increase to 2,180 in 2021 – the highest number since 2016.

The total number of reported strokes was the highest in a decade at 9,352.

The NHS aims to expand access to mechanical thrombectomy to 1% to 10% of stroke patients in the coming years.

He says it would allow 1,600 more people a year to be independent after suffering one.

Dr Bhogal, 42, believes the procedure, given alongside anti-clot drug thrombolysis, is “incredibly cost effective”.

The consultant – who has performed more than 400 mechanical thrombectomy operations – warned of doctors’ burnout unless steps are taken to expand services.







The biplane is used to perform mechanical thrombectomy
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Image:

Reach Commissioned/Steve Bainbridge)


He and Dr Spooner have called for increased investment in mechanical thrombectomy to improve patient access across the UK.

Their department is raising money to buy a second biplane angiography machine so the hospital can expand to treat 500 patients a year.

Dr Bhogal added: “The aim is to have fairly good if not 100% coverage in England 24/7 within the next two years.”

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