For stroke patients, Mary Washington Hospital is constantly working to win the race against time.


Time is brain.

That’s the reality that Dr. Arun Chhabra and the team he leads at the Primary Stroke Center at Mary Washington Hospital work under every day.

Mary Washington Hospital has been a Certified Primary Stroke Center for more than 10 years, and was recently recertified as a Primary Stroke Center for 2020-2022. That means that the Joint Commission, a globally recognized arbiter of healthcare standards, recognizes that Mary Washington Hospital has the training and procedures in place to ensure stroke patients receive excellent care as quickly as possible.

Because as Chhabra points out, every minute that a stroke goes untreated, 1.9 million brain cells die.

That’s why if you or your loved one is experiencing symptoms of a stroke, it is critical to call 911 or get to a hospital that is equipped to provide the care you need as quickly as possible.


Care that is constantly improving

Its designation as a Primary Stroke Center means Mary Washington Hospital is already triaging patients, working quickly to get blood-clot-busting medications to those who need them, providing appropriate therapies in the hospital and discharging patients with a plan to manage their risk factors.

But on top of that, the hospital was recognized in 2019 with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get with the Guidelines Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.

The award recognizes the hospital’s commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines derived from the latest scientific evidence.

Among other things, it sets a high standard for the speed with which hospital staff administer the clot-busting tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA.

Mary Washington Hospital was found to be able to administer this drug to 75 percent of patients in under an hour, and to 50 percent in less than 45 minutes.

That is reflective of the energy that Chhabra and his team put into constantly improving the level of care Mary Washington provides to stroke patients in the Fredericksburg region.

That work involves regular meetings with EMS and first responders throughout the community, because the actions they take in the field can save precious time in treating patients. Chhabra has taught EMS teams to recognize large strokes that require a treatment called mechanical thrombectomy, so that hospital staff can be alerted immediately and begin making plans to transport those patients to VCU Medical Center.

Mary Washington Hospital is working toward designation as a Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center—meaning it could be performing mechanical thrombectomy here in Fredericksburg as soon as next year.

“In the future we are hoping to have all these patients come to us directly,” Chhabra said.


1.9 million: The number of brain cells that die every minute that a stroke goes untreated.


In addition to constantly improving treatment capabilities, Stroke Center staff at Mary Washington Hospital also educate patients about why they had a stroke, and equip them with strategies to help manage their risk in the future.

“I don’t want to see patients who have been in the hospital coming back with another stroke,” Chhabra said. “We address and treat those risk factors, we educate the patient and we give them the appropriate medications when necessary. When that happens, our job is truly complete.”


Know the signs of a stroke

Acting quickly when a stroke happens is the most important way to increase the chance of surviving a stroke.

To remember the signs of a stroke, think about the letters F-A-S-T.

  • F – Face – Is the face drooping on either side?
  • A – Arm – Is there weakness in one arm but not the other? Chhabra also adds that this weakness can occur in the legs.
  • S – Speech – Is the patient slurring his or her words?
  • T – Time – Strokes happen suddenly. Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you think you or someone near you is having one.

Chhabra also said that double vision and vertigo are additional symptoms that stroke patients may experience.


Who is at risk?

Age is a risk factor for stroke, but the reality is that many other conditions can put people at risk as early as their 30s or 40s.

These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

Atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heartbeat, is a heart condition that affects millions of Americans as they age. This condition interrupts normal blood flow, putting individuals at higher risk of blood clots and stroke.

“If someone knows they have atrial fibrillation,” Chhabra said, “they should discuss with their primary care doctor or their cardiologist if they are a candidate for blood thinners to prevent stroke.”


Guidance and support round out treatment

Life after a stroke comes with a lot of questions, and stroke treatment at Mary Washington Hospital connects patients with resources that can help them after they leave the hospital.

A team of stroke survivors volunteer at the hospital, visiting the rooms of stroke patients before they are discharged. This chance to talk with someone who has been in their shoes is often reassuring to patients who are recovering, Chhabra said.

“They see these stroke survivors and they see, ‘I can live a functional life,’” he said.

In addition, the Mary Washington Healthcare Stroke Support Group meets monthly at various locations in the community. It’s a place where members can get to know each other, ask questions, find solutions and build morale.

An additional support group that meets regularly supports stroke survivors who are living with aphasia—a speech impairment that can happen after a stroke.

All of these resources are part of a comprehensive continuum of care that Mary Washington Hospital’s Primary Stroke Center provides to help ensure Fredericksburg area residents have the best possible outcomes if they experience a stroke.

“I really love working in this community,” Chhabra said. “Everyone has a drive and energy to want to improve outcomes for patients and be able to treat stroke efficiently. I feel like we can make a huge impact in Fredericksburg and the greater area.”

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Stay tuned to the Fredericksburg Parent Facebook page and YouTube Channel for a video interview this month with more information about the Primary Stroke Center at Mary Washington Hospital.