New Technology for Stroke Patients

(April 29, 2014) - Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC) in Savannah, recently acquired the Apollo system from Penumbra, Inc. The Apollo is a new surgical tool that can repair bleeding deep in the brain caused by hemorrhagic stroke. Memorial is the first hospital in the country to offer this cutting-edge treatment.

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel or aneurysm in the brain bursts and bleeds into the surrounding area. The excess blood puts pressure on the brain and causes dangerous swelling. Hemorrhagic strokes account for 23 percent of all the strokes we see at MUMC. Nationwide, they affect roughly 80,000 Americans per year. The incidence rate doubles for African-Americans, Asians, and people with chronic high blood pressure. When a stroke causes bleeding deep in the brain, more than 50 percent of victims die within 30 days -- and most die within two days. Only about 20 percent recover and live independently six months later. This makes the Apollo a crucial, life-saving device.

The Apollo system consists of a surgical "wand" that is inserted through a small, dime-sized hole in the patient's skull. Using medical imaging, surgeons carefully navigate the wand to the site of the bleeding deep within the brain. The wand then works like a vacuum and suctions out the excess blood to relieve pressure and swelling.

In the past, neurosurgeons had to remove and then re-attach a much larger portion of the skull. Because people who are experiencing a stroke are in a very fragile medical state, this type of major open surgery could sometimes do more harm than good. The Apollo's minimally invasive approach is less traumatic for the patient.

Before Apollo, we would insert a drainage tube into the bleeding area and attempt to drain the excess blood out over a period of several days. At the same time, we would use clot-dissolving drugs to keep the tube flowing. The Apollo system allows us to get the same results in a matter of minutes with a simple surgery and no additional drugs. The faster and more completely you remove the blood causing the problem, the better patients should do.

Hemorrhagic stroke can strike without warning. It may appear as a sudden severe headache or sudden, unexplained seizures, nausea, vomiting, or unconsciousness. If you see a person experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. When it comes to a stroke, just a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. You can learn more at stroke.memorialhealth.com.

About the Author: Jay Howington, M.D., FACS, has practiced in Savannah for 10 years at Neurological Institute of Savannah and Center for Spine. He is a board-certified neurosurgeon with fellowship training in vascular/endovascular neurosurgery. He is also the medical director of the stroke team and neuro intensive care unit at Memorial University Medical Center and an associate professor of radiology.