How Erlanger’s battle with stroke changed history

Years of diligent work by exceptional physicians at the Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center helped Erlanger position itself as one of the best hospitals in the country to battle against stroke — and win.

Winning at battle requires the skills and knowledge of exceptional leadership along with a dedicated team willing to advance when faced with opposition. These are also essential when the brain is under attack by a stroke.

When the rest of the world was treating strokes with the drug tPA alone, a clot-dissolver ineffective against most large vessel blood clots, Erlanger pioneered endovascular treatment—a procedure that mechanically removes blood clots from the brain by tiny extractors passed through the blood stream.

“When tPA was introduced in 1996, it was a medical breakthrough,” said Erlanger’s Neuro-interventional Radiologist Dr. Blaise Baxter. “However, our team recognized that although the drug was effective, it wasn’t effective enough. We’ve been using endovascular treatment since 1999, because we knew it was the better option for our patients.”

Erlanger’s early success using clot retrievers inspired an episode on the then-top-rated NBC television drama ER.  And 16 years later, Erlanger’s reputation keeps growing.

On the heels of becoming a Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center, a distinction reserved for the best stroke centers in the country, the Erlanger stroke team was honored at the International Stroke Council (ISC) for their role in securing endovascular treatment as the standard practice in acute stroke care.

“When our team received the call that the endovascular treatment clinical trials were ending earlier than expected, we were ecstatic,” said Dr. Biggya Sapkota, Co-Director of the Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center. “The results of the trials were overwhelmingly positive.” Dr. Sapkota, who became a member of the trial’s international steering committee, continued. “Erlanger played a vital role in this study. Not only were we able to enroll more patients in the study than any other testing site, but we were able to report the best outcomes and fastest treatment times.”

Why was Erlanger so successful in its outcomes? Because Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center is Southeast Tennessee’s first and only accredited Comprehensive Stroke Center with a rapid response stroke team prepared to battle a stroke 24/7. For acute stroke patients, Erlanger even has a strict no-diversion policy as well as an auto-launch policy from LIFE FORCE, Erlanger’s helicopter air ambulance fleet that’s ready to take flight whenever seconds count.

To learn more about the world-class Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center, visit To contact UT Erlanger Neurology or to make an appointment with a specialist, call 423-778-2564.