By Daniel Dunaief
In June, Diana Squitieri of Holbrook wasn’t making sense. Her son Joe noticed that she was also stumbling while her face was drooping.
When he brought her to his car to take her to the hospital, she became so disoriented that he asked his wife, Erin, to call 911. That decision, and the new vehicle that arrived, may have saved her life.
A Stony Brook University Hospital mobile stroke unit, which went into service two months before Squitieri’s symptoms developed, immediately started assessing her symptoms.
Each of the two units is a mobile stroke emergency room, which allows Stony Brook doctors to determine whether the patient has a blocked vessel or bleeding in the brain.
If the process of getting to the hospital and determining her condition had taken any longer, Joe Squitieri is convinced he “could have been burying her.”
For bringing these two stroke units to Suffolk County, the TBR News Media is pleased to recognize the team of medical professionals at Stony Brook Medicine who provide life-saving care for stroke victims.
Suffolk County is “one of only a few places in the entire United States to have these units,” said Dr. David Fiorella, the co-director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center.
Stony Brook hopes to add a third unit within the next year.
Through the end of September, the two units had received 550 calls. Of those, about half of the patients had a stroke. Some received anti-clotting drugs while in transit to the hospital, while an evaluation of others en route alerted surgeons to the need for rapid intervention.
Every minute during a stroke could endanger as many as two million brain cells, Fiorella said. That means cutting down on the time to receive medicine or to have surgery potentially saves millions of brain cells, which can improve the quality and quantity of a person’s life.
Squitieri is one of 23 people transported in the stroke unit who had an emergency surgical procedure to remove the clot.
Numerous people contributed to bringing these mobile units to Stony Brook, including Eric Niegelberg, the associate director of Operations for Emergency Services and Internal Medicine; Michael Guido, the co-director of the Stroke Center; Eileen Conlon, the RN coordinator of the stroke unit; and Carol Gomes, the interim CEO of Stony Brook Hospital.
Niegelberg appreciated Fiorella’s efforts.
“It was only through [Fiorella’s] leadership and perseverance that we were able to launch this program,” Niegelberg said in an email. Fiorella spent considerable time meeting with county legislators, EMS committees and EMS agencies to rally support for this program.
Fiorella appreciated the joint effort that made this lifesaving service possible. He was grateful that Gomes “saw the value” of this service. “Without her dedication, this would never have happened.”
Gomes believes the stroke units provide “an extraordinary medical service” while improving the quality of life for the community, she wrote in an email.
The mobile stroke units, which have four specialized personnel on board, are equipped with technology that allows Stony Brook neurologists to examine and diagnose each patient.
The outcomes for patients are better because of the earlier delivery of care, Fiorella said. Hospital stays are also shorter, lowering the cost of care.
Squitieri and her son Joe are thankful that the mobile stroke unit arrived at her home when it did.
Diana Squitieri recalled being scared during her stroke and said the crew took “wonderful care of me.”
Joe Squitieri called the stroke unit a “godsend.”