For UR Medicine, new mobile stroke ambulance aims to save time

The University of Rochester Medical Center unveiled a first-of-its-kind ambulance Thursday. Its purpose is to treat stroke victims before they even get to the hospital. That critical time can mean lives are being saved. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - The University of Rochester Medical Center unveiled a first-of-its-kind ambulance Thursday.

Its purpose is to treat stroke victims before they even get to the hospital. That critical time can mean lives are being saved.

Eleven years ago, Keith Nickoloff suffered a stroke that nearly killed him. Now, he is the president of a local company, owns a farm, and is the patriarch of a large family. Most people would never know by looking at him that he had a stroke.

Keith is grateful for his life, but cannot help but imagine what might have been different if help had come even faster.

"What if they'd gotten there in 30 minutes and given me that clot busting drug then?," Keith said during an interview with 13WHAM's Norma Holland. "So maybe I wouldn't have lost millions of brain cells and, as they say, every hour you're deprived of blood to your brain, your brain ages four years. So maybe I wouldn't have a 78 year-old brain and more closer to my age of 65."

Doctors said time is brain when it comes to a stroke.

The new UR Mobile Stroke Ambulance is designed to save time. Technology on board helps to diagnose a patient more quickly. Video cameras let doctors see the patient up close.

A CT scanner captures images of the patient's brain to determine what kind of stroke they had. If needed, a specially-trained ambulance crew can administer a clot-busting drug called TPA in minutes, instead of an hour.

The idea for the ambulance in Rochester came from the Cleveland Clinic, which has had its own rig on the road since 2014.

Dr. Tarun Bhalla, who works at the University of Rochester Medical Center, worked in Cleveland and knew that Rochester needed one too, given the similarities between the two cities.

"There’s an inner city population that isn’t being served with respect to stroke," Dr. Bhalla said. "The demographics are eerily similar, the socio-economic similarities are right up there, the geographic area that we need to cover is very similar."

The UR Medicine Mobile Stroke Unit will save both time and money, reducing the need for patients to be hospitalized for long periods of time and live with long-term disabilities.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. It is also one of the most preventable; as much as 80 percent of strokes can be prevented through lifestyle changes.

It is hoped that the UR Medicine Mobile Stroke ambulance will help promote that message throughout Monroe County and surrounding counties once service is expanded.

Keith is a survivor - and an advocate. Over the course of the last 12 months, he has helped to raise money for the ambulance using his voice and personal experience to help change the course of stroke treatment in Rochester.

"I've never gone to the dark side, to say, 'Oh what happened to me is a terrible thing,'" Keith said. "I have to live with certain things the rest of my life, but those things I share with you are nominal things, compared to the fact that we're alive and I'm doing great and as a family we're doing great. At the end of the day, it caused new reverence for life and of kindness. There's a new recognition that life is fragile, more fragile, but you can't live in fear."

The new ambulance is expected to cost approximately $1 million to build and about $500,000 to operate each year.

The UR Medicine Mobile Stroke Unit is expected to be active in a couple weeks.

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