Neda Jafari, D.O., an interventional neurosurgeon with WellSpan Neurosurgery, demonstrates a revolutionary technique to treat stroke patients, the 3-D
Neda Jafari, D.O., an interventional neurosurgeon with WellSpan Neurosurgery, demonstrates a revolutionary technique to treat stroke patients, the 3-D biplane system, Tuesday August 20, 2013. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

Operating Room 19 in WellSpan York Hospital looks as if it belongs in the future.

Huge monitors fill the bright room, displaying black-and-white images of the brain that look like arterial road maps. A hospital bed is in the center, surrounded by a massive imaging suite with arms that spin around and take pictures of a patient's head from all angles.

In the new-age operating room, which is used for stroke patients, some scientifically wild things happen.

"It's incredible what we can do with this piece of technology," said Dr. Neda Jafari, an interventional neurosurgeon with WellSpan.

Brain ninja: Patients come in, sometimes in very dire situations, she said. During a stroke, their brains are deprived of blood, which is their only life source.

Operating Room 19, which was completed at the start of July, is part of WellSpan's new Primary Stroke Program.

During a procedure, patients are fully conscious as Jafari, like a sort of brain ninja, sticks a tube in their leg or arm, snakes it to the clogged artery in the brain and uses a stent to suction out the clot. The process takes about an hour, she said.

"That's revolutionary," she said. "This has really changed the face of stroke intervention."

As she demonstrated the technology, she held in her hands very thin catheters, which make their way up to the brain and "catch" the clot with a webbing of soft teeth.

Every now and then, when a brain clot is removed during the procedure, something clicks for the patient in Room 19.

"They wake up on our table," Jafari said. "You don't know what it means for a patient and their family. ... It's amazing to be able to offer that."

The process of using stents to remove blood clots is only about 2 years old, she said.

Only in York: Once a stroke occurs, there's about a three- to four-hour window for intravenous medication, such as tPA, to be administered and treat the clot, she said.

The medication, which has been around since about 1995, is still considered the No. 1 treatment for stroke, she said, but it isn't right for everyone.

That's why, for them and others who miss that crucial time frame, it's important to have an interventional surgeon standing by who can suck out the clots eight to 12 hours after stroke, Jafari said.

York Hospital is the only hospital in the region that offers that endovascular service, she said. The next closest in the area are Johns Hopkins Hospital and Penn State Hershey Medical Center, she said.

And that makes a big difference for the York community, which used to have to go to other medical centers to receive that care, added Lori Clark, vice president of neuroscience at WellSpan.

"I'm so excited about this," she said. "I hated to see our patients get transferred."

Having an interventional neurosurgeon like Jafari, who trained at the Cleveland Clinic and supplemented her schooling for two extra years to learn the new technology, is an asset, Clark said.

"It's amazing. It's really is," she said. "(She's) very well-trained; we're excited to have her."

York Hospital treats 1,000 stroke and mini-stroke patients a year, Clark said. Its stroke team is on call 24/7, either on site or able to be at the hospital in 15 minutes, she said.

The next plan for the hospital is to become certified as a comprehensive stroke program, the highest level of accreditation.

Don't delay: With 2 million brain cells dying every minute the organ is without blood flow, time is crucial in treating a stroke, Jafari said, as brain tissue can't be replaced or regenerated in any way.

"Every second counts, I cannot stress this enough," she said.

If a stroke were as painful as a heart attack, more people would be aware of the urgency of it, she said. Causes of stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol use. Symptoms can be sudden and include weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

The most important thing to remember is to call 911 right away if you're experiencing symptoms, Jafari said. If there's any possibility it's a stroke, don't worry that you might be wrong, she said.

It could mean the difference between life and death, she said.

-Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.