UT appoints stroke expert to lead efforts to address high stroke mortality rates

In time, internationally recognized expert Dr. Andrei Alexandrov hopes to place Memphis on the map as a regional forerunner in stroke research and prevention.

The newly appointed Semmes-Murphey Professor and chair of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Department of Neurology says he plans to take stroke care in Memphis to a higher level by partnering with local hospitals, enhancing existing stroke centers and recruiting more vascular neurologists to the city.

“Memphis is in a unique situation to create a citywide stroke response system,” said Alexandrov. “Once stroke happens, the response within the first hour is very important. Working with hospitals that are interested in developing a quick response system, we’ll be developing a citywide network of vascular neurologists able to deal with any complex stroke situation.”

U.S. public health authorities have dubbed 11 southeastern states, including Tennessee, as the “Stroke Belt” due to the region’s significantly increased stroke risk, combined with stroke mortality rates that are more than 10 percent above the national average. To address these needs, in 2011, Methodist University Hospital – which serves as a teaching hospital for UTHSC students – developed a state-of-the-art stroke center and neurovascular center for stroke treatment and prevention.

“It’s an absolutely world-class center that has had great success, upon which we’re going to be building,” Alexandrov said.

In addition to his positions at UTHSC, Alexandrov will serve as medical director of that center, which under his direction, is being upgraded to include even more comprehensive services, such as a clinic that will allow walk-in patients to bypass an emergency room wait, allowing them quicker access to stroke specialists.

“The clinic is especially for those patients who have had a TIA (transient ischemic attack, or “mini stroke”) or have recovered from a minor stroke and now need to see a specialist to find out why,” Alexandrov said. “If they can find out why they had a stroke, then the specialist will tell them what to do to prevent the next one, which otherwise would be imminent. That’s why we want to give these patients faster access to specialists.”
Nationally, the wait time to see a neurologist can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, if not more, he said.

Alexandrov said they’re still working on getting more neurologists on board, but if all goes as planned, the expanded stroke services at Methodist University should launch this summer. Once that milestone is completed, he hopes to start working with other hospital systems in Memphis, such as Baptist Memorial Hospital, to expand their stroke centers as well.

Prior to his appointment at UTHSC, Alexandrov was a professor in the Department of Neurology and director of the Division of Cerebrovascular Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In addition, he was medical director of the Stroke Service and the Intermediate Care Stroke Unit at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, as well as director of the hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center and Neurovascular Ultrasound Laboratory.

One reason Alexandrov came to Memphis was the potential he saw for making an impact on stroke treatment, not just here but also throughout the region. Here, the various hospital systems are enthusiastic about working together for the good of the community’s health, he said.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity. Our hospitals here will be able to serve the community even more, not only in Memphis, but also in Mississippi and East Arkansas.”

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