Thrombectomy should be available everywhere.
Since thrombectomy became available as an emergency stroke treatment in 2017, fewer than 2,500 have been carried out per year. This is less than a quarter of the stroke patients across the UK who could benefit.
Across the UK, there are areas with no service and others with only weekday and working hours coverage.
Gerald McMullen, a 66-year-old retired pub landlord and driver, had a stroke at home in Cardiff in October 2020.
'I got up in the morning and felt OK,' Gerald recalls. 'I was sitting in my chair having a cup of tea when my wife Linda suddenly asked if I was OK. I said 'yes'. However, she noticed that something was amiss. My outstretched arm, holding my cup, seemed rigid to her.' Linda recognised the FAST symptoms and called 999 immediately.
On arrival at Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales, Gerald was taken for a scan, then moved to another department where a thrombectomy was carried out.
Thrombectomy is most effective when delivered within six hours of symptoms occurring. A flexible tube with a tiny wire mesh cage on the end is inserted into an artery near the groin and guided up through the body into the brain. The cage closes around the clot and removes it, allowing blood to flow freely again.
This procedure is performed on stroke patients who have a big clot in the brain, known as a large artery occlusion.
Gerald recognises that he was 'so lucky' to get the procedure: 'All I remember of the operation was the machine over the top of my head. I had my head taped to the table and I drifted off to sleep. The next thing I remember is the guy said to me: 'That's it, you're done.''
Gerald stayed on the ward for two nights. 'The stroke has left me with a legacy of a weak right arm,' Gerald says, 'but I'm getting that back now.' A minor inconvenience, he notes, which is much better than the alternative. "Without the thrombectomy I would have been in a much worse state."
Now Gerald can play golf again and enjoy life with his family. 'I think thrombectomy is fantastic. I think it should be made available everywhere. Get it done quickly and get rid of the clot. It's brilliant technology.
Help us to improve access to thrombectomy
Our charity wants 24/7 thrombectomy to be available for everyone, but we need your help. If you think you might have missed out on receiving a thrombectomy, perhaps because your stroke happened in the evening or at the weekend, or in an area without a thrombectomy service, we want to hear from you.
To share your story email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the spring 2022 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.