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Published October 10, 2012, 11:02 AM

Essentia beefs up neurosciences department

FARGO – Marlene Johnson and Linda Fedora consider themselves lucky that their neurological emergencies happened when they did.

By: Patrick Springer, Forum Communications

FARGO – Marlene Johnson and Linda Fedora consider themselves lucky that their neurological emergencies happened when they did.

Both women suffered serious problems involving blood vessels in their brains – an aneurysm for Johnson, a stroke for Fedora.

In each case, the women showed up at the emergency room at Essentia Health and were treated by an interventional neurologist using “minimally invasive” techniques that, only a few months earlier, would not have been available locally, according to Essentia.

Essentia recently added two physician specialists trained in providing minimally invasive treatments for strokes and aneurysms as part of an enhancement of its neuroscience services. Having the service available locally is important, Essentia officials say, because early treatment can halt brain damage and improve both survival rates and outcomes.

Their services are available 24/7, a commitment that recently earned the facility an accreditation from The Joint Commission as an advanced primary stroke center.

Strokes are caused by blocked blood flow or leakage in the brain. Aneurysms are blood vessels in the brain that leak or rupture. Both can result in brain damage.

Marlene Johnson felt nauseated and had a splitting headache she attributed to a lack of food, so she ate, but her symptoms only grew worse. Her husband insisted that she go to the hospital in Breckenridge, Minn., where doctors diagnosed a brain aneurysm.

She was transported by ambulance, where an interventional neurologist at Essentia Health determined that she needed an emergency procedure to fix a leaking blood vessel in her brain.

If the Aug. 2 episode had occurred a few months earlier, she likely would have gone to Minneapolis.

“I feel good,” she said of her recovery. “I probably get tired a little faster.”

In Johnson’s case, the bleeding was a slow leak, a condition that often leads to a rupture within two to five days, said Dr. Ziad Darkhabani, the interventional neurologist who performed the procedures on both women.

His partner is Dr. Michael Hill, a specialist in interventional neurology and neurosurgery. Both employ high-tech imaging and a tiny catheter to insert instruments to repair blood vessels in the brain.

Half of patients with ruptured brain aneurysms that bleed don’t survive, Darkhabani said. Those who do spend days recovering in the hospital.

“Fixing the aneurysm is one tiny piece of the treatment,” Darkhabani said, referring to a therapeutic team that includes neurologists, neurosurgeons, therapists and a nurse coordinator.

A few weeks after Johnson suffered her aneurysms, Linda Fedora had a stroke.

On Aug. 30, her daughter became alarmed when her mother was slurring her speech. A neighbor’s son, an emergency medical technician, drove her from Horace to Fargo, where an imaging study revealed that she was having a stroke.

Luckily for Fedora, it was early enough for intervention to prevent further damage, Darkhabani said. Even so, her stroke was severe.

Now, a little more than a month later, she sometimes has difficulty retrieving the right word and has some memory loss. She works with physical, occupational and speech therapists.

At Sanford Health, Dr. Corey Teigen, a neuro-interventional radiologist, said he has been providing stroke care in Fargo for many years, including several advanced procedures, including intra-arterial and “corkscrew” as well as a blood-clot suction device and “others now available at Essentia.”

Warning signs of possible stroke

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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