Valley Residents with high blood pressure or diabetes are at risk for stroke. Valley Baptist Stroke Program was 1st in the Valley to be certified by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare. Organizations. NETWORK

Each year in the United States, more than 795,000 people suffer a stroke—similar to a heart attack but affecting. The brain instead of the heart. In fact, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States—and a leading cause of disability. In the Valley, many people are at high risk for stroke because of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels. And obesity.

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot. Or bursts. When either happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs and that part of the. Brain starts to die.

Stroke is a medical emergency. Dr. Victoria A. Parada, Board-Certified Vascular Neurologist and Clinical Director of Neurosciences and the Stroke Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. Said that it’s critical for Valley residents to learn the warning signs of stroke—and to call 911 immediately if. They or a loved one experiences symptoms.


“Seventy percent of stroke victims don’t reach the hospital within the first three hours after stroke symptoms begin because they lack awareness of the importance of prompt recognition and treatment of symptoms of stroke,” Dr. Parada said. “Every minute spent without treatment means more brain cells die.”

At Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen and Brownsville, a clot-busting medication called tPA is used to reverse strokes when medically indicated—but the intravenous (IV) medication must be given within 3 to 4½ hours from the start of symptoms of a possible stroke, underscoring the importance of calling 911 and getting to the emergency room immediately.


New endovascular stroke procedures, which are performed in specially-equipped “bi-plane” cath labs at Valley Baptist-Harlingen, have increased the time window for stroke treatment in the Valley to eight hours or more with certain patients. Valley Baptist-Harlingen is the only hospital in the Valley that offers these specialized endovascular stroke procedures, which are performed by two specially-trained interventional neurologists, Dr. Ameer Hassan and Dr. Wondwossen Tekle, both of whom completed fellowships in endovascular surgical neuroradiology at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Hassan said that in some cases the endovascular stroke procedures can be used 12 to 24 hours after symptoms begin, e.g., to treat those who wake up paralyzed or with other stroke symptoms that set in overnight. “This enables us to double the time window for treatment—and to treat many more stroke victims,” Dr. Hassan said. “Basically, we are giving people a chance, people who otherwise would have poor outcomes after a stroke.”


In addition to the neuro-critical care specialists Dr. Hassan and Dr. Tekle, Valley Baptist-Harlingen has a neuro-hospitalist team that includes Dr. Parada, Dr. Felix G. Rivera and nurse practitioner Julio Olmeda as well as Valley Baptist’s Stroke Coordinator, Erlinda Abantao, RN. This team, which also includes a highly-trained neuro ICU staff, works closely with skilled local neurosurgeons such as Dr. Alejandro Betancourt and Dr. Jose Dones, who are also key members of the Valley Baptist stroke team.


The Emergency Department staff, including physicians, nurses and others, plays an important role. The Rehabilitation Department is also essential for helping patients regain function after stroke. The Cath lab staff, where the bi-planes are located, are integral to the program’s success. “It truly is a team approach,” agreed the group.

Dr. Rivera, who specializes in treating neuro-muscular disorders and epilepsy, earned his MD from Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara in Mexico and completed a Neurology Residency at New York Medical College. He noted that many neurological conditions result from unhealthy lifestyles.

“Most of the conditions treated in medicine are more than 80 percent preventable, including heart and brain diseases,” Dr. Rivera stated. “We are what we eat and, unfortunately, many people are not paying attention to eating right and staying active. Eating right and exercising frequently helps our brain to run like a well-oiled machine.”


Dr. Hassan urges his patients to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and to eat a balanced diet. Dr. Hassan said his grandfather died of a stroke—and he is passionate about helping save the lives of Valley patients by offering advanced stroke procedures previously only available in San Antonio and Houston.

Dr. Tekle noted that every 4 minutes someone dies of a stroke. “I am very concerned even about the younger population in the Valley—people in their 30s and 40s—because we are seeing strokes on a regular basis within this age group,” said Dr. Tekle. “It is so important to eat a healthy diet, maintain normal body weight, exercise regularly, avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake. If you develop stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. Stroke treatment is time sensitive! Time is brain!”

Dr. Parada, who did her residency at the University of South Alabama Neurology Department, decided to become a neurologist during her internal medicine rotation, after taking care of a stroke patient. “I found the brain fascinating and I also found it challenging and rewarding to help patients to overcome conditions that would limit or impair their abilities to remain functional and independent. This is why I committed my career to stroke care,” Dr. Parada commented.


Dr. Parada believes it’s important for Valley residents to know the following warning signs of stroke and teach them to others—because with stroke, every second counts:

numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg—especially on one side of the body

confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

trouble seeing in one or both eyes

trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

severe headache with no known cause

Dr. Parada was the key leader in Valley Baptist-Harlingen developing the first Primary Stroke Center south of San Antonio, in 2005.

According to the Joint Commission, the certification signifies Valley Baptist’s “dedication to fostering better outcomes for patients” and demonstrates that Valley Baptist’s Stroke Program “meets critical elements of performance to achieve long-term success in improving outcomes for stroke patients.”

“The mission of the Valley Baptist Neuroscience Team is to improve the healthcare of the patients we serve through excellence in patient care, education and research,” Dr. Parada stated. She also stressed that Valley Baptist has “a committed stroke team willing to make every effort to help our patients to restore functioning and prevent disability.”


In the area of medical research, a recent study conducted by six neurologists—including Dr. Hassan and Dr. Tekle at Valley Baptist—suggests that Hispanics in border states may be waiting too long to come to the hospital for treatment of stroke. The research showed that Hispanics in the Valley and elsewhere along the Mexican border are less likely to receive medications to treat strokes and 30 percent more likely to die from “brain attacks” than non-Hispanic patients. In addition, Dr. Hassan serves as the lead investigator for research that is continuing at Valley Baptist on the use of an anti-platelet drug, Cilostazol, in the prevention of stroke.

In addition to stroke treatment, the neurologists treat a wide range of conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, neuropathies, seizures, tremors, problems of muscles and the spine, loss of balance, headaches, dizziness or loss of memory, arterio-venous malformations (AVM’s), intracranial hemorrhages, multiple sclerosis, brain swelling and Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS).

The neurology group’s office is located at the Valley Institute for Neurological Excellence, 2121 Pease Street, Suite 1D, Harlingen, Texas, on the first floor of Valley Baptist at the Professional Building entrance.

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