Vacuum Cleaner Saves Stroke Patients

Excerpt of Article by Harriet Alexander | The Sydney Morning Herald

2015-0317 Saving Lives of Stroke Victims
Christie Pitronaci with her daughter Mia. Christie’s life was saved using a new stroke treatment. Photo: Nic Walker


She had no feeling on one side of her body and could not speak. She was choking.

As her husband rolled her onto her side, one of her last images was the face of their two-year-old daughter who had crawled into bed with them overnight, calling “Mummy, mummy, mummy”.

During the night, a blood clot from her heart had crept up the main artery supplying the left side of her brain, resulting in a dominant hemisphere stroke.

The condition is traditionally treated with clot busting drugs, but they were not appropriate in Ms Pitronaci’s case because they need to be administered within three hours and it was not clear when her stroke had occurred.

But doctors were able to remove the blood clot by sucking it out in a once radical procedure that is now poised to become the co-dominant treatment for ischaemic stroke.

Stroke is among the top three killers in Australia and 85 per cent of them are ischaemic, which means they are caused by blood clots.

The embolectomy procedure involves drawing a catheter through an artery via an incision at the groin, and guiding it under X-ray to the brain, where the clot is sucked out. [Surgeons call it an “embolectomy,” I call it a vacuum cleaner.]

A Netherlands study known as the MR CLEAN trial has found stroke patients treated with an embolectomy had superior movement at 90 days compared to a control group and were no more likely to die.

Ms Pitronaci, 38, was up and walking within three days. [She was back at work shortly thereafter.]

Procedural Basics

  • The patient suffers an ischaemic stroke, where a blood clot migrates from the heart and blocks the major artery to the brain
  • Doctors make a 2-3mm incision in the groin
  • A catheter is navigated from the incision through the arterial system to reach the clot in the brain
  • A device taken through the catheter retrieves the clot, or the clot is sucked out through the catheter.


Thanks to Harriet Alexander for writing the touching and informative article; The Sydney Morning Herald for committing its resources to the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.

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