In 2018, first-responders received the most stroke-related calls and hospital transports from residents in Forest Park. 

The village’s new mobile stroke unit responded to at least double the number of calls and hospital transports locally, as compared to the six other nearby municipalities studied. The mobile stroke unit, the first-of-its-kind in Illinois, is an enhanced ambulance that contains technology and medicine to immediately treat those suffering from a stroke. The Grainger Foundation awarded the village, in partnership with Rush University Medical Center, a four-year grant to fund the unit in April 2018. 

“If they’re having a stroke, the sooner we can get them treated, and the better outcome they are going to have,” said Fire Chief Bob McDermott, adding that he wasn’t sure why Forest Park clocked the greatest number of stroke calls and transports in 2018. The mobile stroke unit responded to 36 calls and 22 hospital transports in Forest Park last year.

In 2018, the mobile stroke unit responded to 18 calls and eight transports in North Riverside; 14 calls and seven transports in Broadview; 13 calls and four transports in Cicero; 12 calls and 11 transports in Berkeley; six calls and six transports in Stone Park; and no calls or transports in Oak Park, according to data provided by Rush University.

“Time is Brain,” said McDermott said, referring to the way in which human nervous tissue is rapidly lost as a stroke progresses. 

He added: “You save time. The quicker you recognize help and get definitive help, the better chance you have of surviving a stroke with better quality of life outcome. This is why I thought the mobile stroke unit would be a good fit for us.”

Prior to the inception of the mobile stroke unit, the fire department dispatched an ambulance with paramedics. However, paramedics were not able to begin stroke treatment immediately. With the mobile stroke unit, testing and treatment begins on the spot. 

When the fire department receives a call about someone with stroke-like symptoms, the department dispatches an ambulance and fire engine, and calls the mobile stroke unit from its location at Rush Hospital Oak Park.

Ideally, the mobile stroke unit is dispatched at the same time as the ambulance and fire engine in order to ensure that help reaches the stroke victim as soon as possible. If the paramedics assess that the individual is indeed having a stroke, the mobile stroke unit picks up the patient and immediately starts testing and treating them while en route to the hospital.

The mobile stroke unit contains a CT scanner and is staffed by a nurse, CT technician, paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT). When the mobile stroke unit is dispatched, the on-call neurologist at Rush, who is solely responsible for mobile stroke unit calls, is also notified. 

Unlike ambulances, the mobile stroke unit also offers telemedicine capability. Once in the ambulance, mobile stroke unit medics can call the neurologist into the ambulance via a video conference. The doctor is then able to see and talk to the patient before the patient even reaches the hospital.

The mobile stroke unit team can also take blood tests within the ambulance. All of these features provide information on what kind of stroke the patient is having and whether a blood clot has formed so that treatment can begin immediately. 

The MSU also has the benefit of allowing more time to identify which hospital the patient should be sent to, as not all hospitals have the same emergency rooms capabilities. Most hospitals in the area can treat the type of stroke related to blood clotting. However, in the case of a brain hemorrhage, the hospital that can provide proper treatment is Loyola University Medical Center. While the MSU is an initiative of Rush Hospital, the MSU takes patients to whichever hospital is appropriate for their specific type of stroke. 

The initiative, which McDermott calls one-of-a-kind, is the only one to exist in the western suburbs, though there is also a unit at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. 

Rush has undertaken the mobile stroke unit study to find ways to improve pre-hospital care and post-stroke outcomes.