Emergency Landing along with Quick Action by Staff of UTHSC Mobile Stroke Unit and Methodist University Hospital Saves Delta Passenger’s Life

Posted on: March 06, 2018

An Alabama man is alive and back home thanks to fast action by the staff of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center‘s Mobile Stroke Unit and the doctors and medical staff at Methodist University Hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center.  Gerald Sandlin of Vinemont, Alabama, was aboard a Delta flight bound for Atlanta when he had stroke. The plane made an emergency landing at Memphis International Airport.

The Mobile Stroke Unit was waiting on the tarmac to meet the plane and transferred Sandlin to the $1.1 million, 14-ton van, a stroke center on wheels, designed to reduce the time to treatment and improve odds of recovery from stroke, the fifth leading cause of death an Number 1 cause of permanent disability in adults in the United States.

“If he went somewhere else, treatment would have been delayed a couple of hours,” said Andrei Alexandrov, MD, medical director of the Methodist University Hospital Comprehensive Stroke Center and Mobile Stroke Unit team. “He probably would have died because of the nature of the stroke.” 

The Mobile Stroke Unit is equipped with a hospital-quality CT scanner with advanced imaging capabilities that allow brain imaging and also imaging of the individual blood vessels in the brain.

It was the first in the world with this type of state-of-the-art scanning capability, which allows for diagnosis and initial treatment with the clot-busting drug, tissue plasminogen activator, tPA, in the field, instead of waiting to begin treatment at the hospital.

“Time is brain,” said Dr. Alexandrov. The longer it takes to treat a stroke, the more blood vessels die from lack of blood flow, and the worse the outcome. That is why it is crucial to receive medical treatment as soon as possible to achieve the best result.

Once the plane landed, Sandlin was quickly taken to the Mobile Stroke Unit, and within one minute, he was undergoing a CT –angiography scan that clearly showed a basilar artery thrombosis, the most deadly stroke. The clot-busting tPA was administered, and he was taken to Methodist University Hospital, where the clot was successfully removed by Adam Arthur, MD, a neurosurgeon with Methodist University Hospital.

“I’m tickled to be doing so well,” said Sandlin. With the fast treatment he received, he has none of the residual problems that can result from stroke. “I feel good,” he said, and demonstrated that fact by walking down the hospital corridor the day after his massive stroke.