With the first comprehensive stroke center in Charlotte County, Fawcett Memorial Hospital is bringing hope to countless stroke victims and their families.

"This is going to change lives," said Stroke Coordinator Janet Riepenhoff.

Fawcett has been a primary stroke center since 2005, but adding "comprehensive" to the name takes it to the next level, with advanced diagnostic and treatment capabilities previously unavailable. It allows victims of severe stroke to remain at Fawcett rather than being sent to comprehensive centers in Sarasota or Lee counties.

"Your typical stroke patients who come in, they can get the blockbuster drug Alteplase (trade name of Activase or tPA) that dissolves the clot and helps them get back to their normal state," said Riepenhoff, an RN with a bachelor's degree in nursing.

"But a lot of strokes are caused because there's a clot in one of the major arteries in the brain. They can receive the blockbuster drug, but is doesn't always resolve the symptoms or dissolve the clot." This is where the comprehensive component becomes an added tool.

The comprehensive stroke center is part of Fawcett's $2-million-plus new interventional radiology suite that is equipped with the latest technology used to identify blockages or malformations in blood vessels. The center reflects the highest level of competence for the treatment of stroke and required a significant increase in resources, staff, and training.

When a patient comes to Fawcett presenting with stroke symptoms, initial care includes a CT scan of their brain to reveal any bleeding or other abnormalities that would prevent them from getting the clot-busting medication.

If the stroke is serious enough to require comprehensive care, the patient undergoes a more advanced scan with state-of-the art biplane imaging, a digital X-ray technology that uses two mounted rotating cameras, one on each side of the patient, to take simultaneous pictures. The cameras reveal detailed vessel and soft tissue anatomy, identifying blockages or malformations in blood vessels.

The American Stroke Association advises applying the acronym FAST to any symptoms:

  • F - Face drooping
  • A - Arm weakness
  • S - Speech difficulty
  • T - Time to call 911

Additional symptoms Riepenhoff mentioned include dizziness, difficulty understanding or thinking clearly, and paralysis on one side of the body.

For more information on Fawcett's Comprehensive Stroke program, call (941) 624-8084.