Strokes are the third leading cause of death here in the United States, and Tampa Bay area doctors have a new, hi-tech tool to help predict if you're at risk of one.
The system is called NOVA, short for Non-invasive Optimal Vessel Analysis, and uses an MRI plus special software to peer deep inside the tiniest vessels in your brain.
"It's pretty exciting stuff," says Dr. Matthew Berlet, an interventional neuroradiologist at St. Joseph's Hospital.
The vessels leading to and from the brain act much like a garden hose. When the hose is open, water flows evenly. The more it's blocked, the more water slows into a deadly trickle.
It's exactly what happened to Sam Hachem.
"We assumed he was exhausted," explains his wife, Laurice Hachem. "I had to put him in a wheelchair, he couldn't walk, he became dizzy, he was stumbling."
A tiny twisted artery deep in Sam's brain was 98 percent blocked. Fixing it with a stent was risky; so were follow-up tests.
"The only way to see whether this stent in his brain was remaining open would be an invasive angiogram. Every time you do these types of procedures there's a significant risk of stroke," Dr. Berlet said.
Berlet told Sam and his wife about NOVA. It was so new, it was only available a thousand miles away.
"We had gone to Chicago several times to test Sam, they said you're fine, maybe come back in a year," Laurice explained.
That diagnosis offered a sense of relief so profound, Sam and his wife decided to bring the brain test home with a gift from the heart. The couple donated a NOVA system to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
In a life-saving twist, Sam was the first patient to give Tampa's brand new NOVA a test-run. Doctors found Sam's stent was fine, but it uncovered another problem: Sam was bleeding in his brain. If it weren't for the test, the diagnosis would have been missed and possibly deadly.
Laurice is thankful.
"He's running up and down the stairs, barking orders again and that's a blessing! I have my husband back," she said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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