Medical device first used at London hospital reverses stroke symptoms in minutes

In what is a medical first for London Health Sciences Center (LHSC), a procedure using a new medical device to help stroke patients has been successfully performed.

The device is called a balloon distal access catheter (BDAC) and was developed to rapidly remove a blood clot in 10 minutes, reversing stroke symptoms and preventing brain damage.

Wilene Leyen, 59, of Clifford, Ont., was the first patient to successfully undergo the procedure at the University Hospital on June 24, after having her first-ever stroke.

“It was an awful experience but I’m glad I’m alive and I’m kicking,” she said.

Leyen was treated by LHSC’s interventional neuroradiologist, Dr. Michael Mayich, and his team, who perform more than 200 emergency stroke surgeries every year. Identifying strokes and acting quickly is imperative, he said.

“When you have a blockage in a vessel, up to 2 million brain cells are lost every minute, so seconds really count,” Mayich said.

“This device allows us to work from inside of a vessel through a minimally invasive technique and go up into the vessel that’s blocked and take the blockage out, allowing blood flow back to the affected part of the brain and reversing brain damage.”

In Leyen’s case, the BDAC was used by making a tiny incision over the right hip. In less than 10 minutes, blood flow was restored to the brain and her movement and speech were restored almost immediately, Mayich said.

New medical device removes blood clots in stroke patients in minutes

dr. Michael Mayich at the London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital explains how a new medical device from Vena Medical is used to remove clots in the brain that cause a stroke and reverse those symptoms.

‘Procedure gave me my life back’

Wilene Leyen is grateful that she was able to get her life back after undergoing the procedure using BDAC. (Isha Bhargava/CBC News)

Mayich says symptoms of a stroke or blockage can manifest as weakness in the face, arm, trouble with speech, and sometimes trouble with vision. Unless a blockage is opened and oxygenated blood is allowed to flow back the affected brain region, those same issues will go from being temporary, to becoming permanent.

This procedure gave Leyen her life back, she said. Leyen, who was in the process of renovating her house the day she had a stroke, says she lived a very busy and active life.

“I basically got up to get a drink of water and I sat down on the couch, and then I slid on down to the floor and I was there for about 4 hours,” she said. “I called my son, and he got me to the hospital.”

The BDAC, which is the combination of features from existing devices into a single device, uses a balloon to temporarily halt blood flow in a vessel, while suction is applied to remove the offending clots, restoring blood flow to the endangered part of the brain.

The medical device was developed by Kitchener-Waterloo-based Vena Medical. The company’s CEO, Michael Phillips, said his team was initially working to solve a different problem when they discovered that the BDAC can be useful for stroke patients.

“It was very exciting and very stressful at the same time but I was happy that we were to make it happen and treat the first patient, and the fact that she’s doing so well is absolutely incredible,” Phillips said.

Michael Phillips is the co-founder and CEO of Vena Medical based in Kitchener-Waterloo (Isha Bhargava/CBC News)

The importance of stroke recovery and living a normal life is very important to Phillips, who grew up with a grandfather living with lasting stroke effects.

“He was in a wheelchair and unable to speak, and this is before any of this technology was here, but now seeing that Wilene is able to have such a great relationship with her grandchildren, and they might not even realize that she had a stroke , that’s absolutely incredible and it’s extremely rewarding for us and really brings things full circle.”

Although Leyen is living with some lasting impacts such as delayed speech and frequent fatigue, she’s able to get back to the life she lived before the stroke.

“I’m walking and I’m talking and I’m carrying on with life, I’m not stuck in a wheelchair, or fumbling for words, I’m surviving very nicely,” she said.

The BDAC has been used at other hospitals across the country including Ottawa and Edmonton. Phillips’ team will continue bringing it to more Canadian hospitals and ultimately grow internationally.

“This is cutting-edge technology that would normally need to be launched somewhere far from here, but we’re excited to make an impact locally before we make an impact globally.”

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