By Kyle LoJacono
It is no secret the population of east Pasco County is on the older side of the age scale, which is why Florida Hospital Zephyrhills opened its Primary Stroke Center Feb. 28.
The hospital’s CEO and president Doug Duffield said the project has been in the works for a few years, but it really got going in earnest last fall.
“It fits in with everything we’re trying to do here at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills,” Duffield said. “Giving the best and the fastest care to our community with an eye on what programs will give the greatest impact.”
Dr. Amabel Cabatu is the medical director of the new center, which is located within the hospital’s emergency department. She has been practicing medicine for five years.
“Strokes are very common, and in fact they are the No. 3 cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of long-term disability in this country,” Cabatu said. “Every 40 seconds, someone has a stroke in the United States. Most of them are in people 65 or older, but they can happen in all ages.”
Cabatu said a stroke is an interruption of blood floor to the brain, causing tissue to die.
“The most common reason one happens is a blockage. That accounts for 80 percent of strokes,” Cabatu said. “Most of the others happen when blood starts seeping out of the arteries, so blood isn’t getting to where it needs to.”
Cabatu said strokes and heart attacks are very similar, as both happen because of an interruption of blood flow. She added the same risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, being overweight and high cholesterol, can also increase the chance of having a stroke.
“The biggest difference is the brain is a lot more unforgiving than any other part of the body,” Cabatu said. “After a heart attack, the heart can get stronger again. If you remove half of someone’s liver, it will grow back. If you remove a kidney, the other one takes over. The brain doesn’t bounce back like that.”
Cabatu said the long-term effects include loss of movement on one side of the body. The only real way to prevent that is to get to a hospital as fast as possible. She said there are medications and surgical measures, such as stents and removing a blockage, but they do not work more than three hours after a stroke begins.
“They can do some therapy to retrain someone to do things, but the motor function is almost always permanently gone,” Cabatu said.
Cabatu said the chance of having a stroke doubles for every 10 years once someone reaches the age of 55.
“That means a stroke center is critical here in Zephyrhills,” Cabatu said. “Not only do we have an older population, but we have a very healthy and active elderly population. We have people who travel around, go see their friends, play shuffleboard and other active things. If you take someone who is used to cooking for their family or going out dancing with their wife, it would be devastating to be permanently disabled by a stroke.”
The hospital has the distinction of being a primary stroke center, which means they can start treatment within an hour of someone having a stroke.
“Speed is so important, and a lot of that speed comes from the Pasco County Fire and Rescue personnel,” Cabatu said. “They’ve been trained to recognize the signs of a stroke and they are now allowed to take people to stroke centers like we have here, even if it means going past another hospital.”
As a primary stroke center, the hospital has a specialist always available to give the medications to help treat a stroke, but Cabatu said the facility has bigger plans for the ailment.
Cabatu said the center will likely become a comprehensive stroke center in the coming months. That means there would always be a doctor available to perform stroke treatment measures like opening clogs with stents or removing them with surgery.
There are currently 17 comprehensive stroke centers in Florida. Cabatu said the nearest to Zephyrhills are in Tampa or Orlando.
“Having a comprehensive center closer to home is so important given how critical speed is to treating strokes,” Cabatu said. “Our plan is to also have all the therapy and rehab treatment right here at the center.”
Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, 7050 Gall Blvd. in Zephyrhills, will also begin having stroke identification and prevention classes in its wellness center. The first is March 10 from 1-2 p.m. For more information on the center, call the hospital at (813) 788-0411.
Early signs of a stroke
–Vision loss in one eye
–Unable to move body parts
If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 as soon as possible.