By Logan C. Ritchie / lritchie@atljewishtimes.com

Doctors conduct a procedure in the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center’s neuroangiography suite at Grady Memorial Hospital.

The nation’s most technologically advanced facility for stroke patients lies in the heart of a city that continually fights drug abuse, smoking and poor health care.

Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta is home to the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center. The gritty, tragic cases seen by emergency room staff contribute to a negative reputation for Grady among Atlantans, but with the inception and building of a new standard in stroke care, Grady’s character is forever changed.

The Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center was the brainchild of Atlanta Jewish community member Dr. Michael Frankel. Four years ago he envisioned a separate wing for stroke patients. It would house stroke-specific technology, such as CT scanners and angiogram equipment. It would increase the number of patients treated. And it would attract high-quality doctors from top medical schools and institutions.

Grady engaged local Jewish philanthropist Bernie Marcus, who donated $20 million to the project.

“Who would have thought it would make sense to build this destination center? We did,” said Frankel, the center’s director. “We built the right structure, focused on the right treatment, and hired the best nurses and physicians. When I met with [former] CEO Mike Young, I was explicit: Either we do this world class or not at all. I knew if we did it halfway, it wouldn’t be effective.”

Frankel said the choice of location surprised outsiders. “We created this at an inner-city hospital. At the time everyone said we were out of our minds. You only go to Grady if you’ve been shot, stabbed or in a car wreck.”

Dr. Michael Frankel, Grady’s chief of neurology, looks over brain scans.

The original concept in diagnosis and treatment now attracts 1,000 stroke patients each year, an increase of 200 percent.

“It’s a game changer,” Frankel said. “If you walk through the stroke center right now, you will see the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. Patients hail from all over the region. It has changed the demographic of Grady patients, bringing people in from a 100-plus-mile radius. By doing that alone, Grady’s image has changed.”

Since November, four large clinical trials have proved that the approach is highly effective, adding confidence to Frankel and the staff that the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center is the new standard in stroke care.

Marcus also gave money to Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Frankel said the Home Depot founder was so pleased with Grady’s results that he walked into the Boca Raton CEO’s office and asked to re-create the model there.

“We will collaborate in the future. We are exporting the concept,” Frankel said.

He said the stroke center involves the larger Grady system on many levels. “It cuts across all services: dispatch, ER, rehab, nutrition, nursing, radiology. It’s truly multidisciplinary. We have the first, most comprehensive stroke center in the United States.”

Stroke Prevention and Response

Dr. Michael Frankel, Grady Memorial Hospital’s chief of neurology and the director of the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center, sees patients from all walks of life.

Grady is a regional resource for stroke patients, known to save brain function and enhance the chance of recovery. Seventy area hospitals refer their stroke patients to Grady because, Frankel said, “we are smart, capable physicians, and we can do what they cannot.”

Still, people often minimize the risk factors of stroke, and only a third of Atlantans polled knew the signs of stroke.

Frankel offered four steps to stroke prevention:

  • See your health care provider or primary care physician regularly and do what you are told to do.
  • Exercise, eat healthy foods, stop smoking and check your blood pressure often. In other words, eat less and move more.
  • Use diet and exercise to control your blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
  • Understand the difference between knowing what to do and doing it.

“Each one of these things is very challenging to do,” Frankel said, “but each contributes to your overall health and lessening the chance of disease.”

The warning signs that someone is having a stroke form the acronym FAST:

  • Face drooping.
  • Arm weakness.
  • Speech difficulty.
  • Time to call 911.

“If hypertension was an infectious disease, like Ebola, it would be on the front page of the newspaper every day. It is so insidious and evil,” Frankel said. “You don’t know you have it until you’re tested. You don’t feel it. But it is reversible with lifestyle changes.”