P.E.I.'s Heart and Stroke Foundation is calling on the province to build a specialized hospital unit for stroke victims.

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Dr. Reg Hutchings says stroke units significantly improve outcomes for patients. ((CBC))

Neurologist Dr. Reg Hutchings says the Island has built a number of excellent specialized-care facilities in recent years, but the lack of a stroke unit is a glaring omission.

"If you have a heart attack, you know you are going to be treated in a very efficient coronary care unit. If you have cancer, you are going to be treated in a state-of-the-art cancer treatment centre," said Hutchings.

"But if you have a stroke, may God help you."

That was the message Hutchings recently took to a presentation of government MLAs. He made the presentation in support of a lobby by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

P.E.I. is the only province without a stroke unit, and Hutchings said the benefits for patients are well established.

"The statistics are there: reduction in death rate, 18 to 30 per cent; reduction in long-term care, immediate 29 per cent; reduction in moderate to severe disability, 25 per cent," he said.

Aging population

Wilma Campbell has first-hand experience with stroke care on the Island.

Four years ago, she had a series of mini-strokes that several doctors failed to diagnose. Then, while she had a massive stroke while undergoing a test at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

"They just put me in a wheelchair and took me over to the outpatients (section).... I was there for a while, and then I could feel myself getting limp and limp and limp, and drool from my mouth, and I knew I was having a stroke," said Campbell.

Even at that point, she said it took some time for doctors to make a diagnosis.

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With construction already underway at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, now is the time to build a stroke unit, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation. ((CBC))

A stroke unit would include nurses, occupational and physical therapists, and speech pathologists, all specially trained to deal with the effects of a stroke.

Every year, about 340 Islanders have a stroke. Age is the No. 1 risk factor and P.E.I.'s population is one of the oldest in Canada.

"It scares me to death," said Charlotte Comrie, CEO of the P.E.I. Heart and Stroke Foundation. "It scares me to death to think that I might have a stroke here."

Comrie said with a major expansion underway at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, it makes sense to add a stroke unit now.

A unit there would cost about $3.5 million a year to run. The government has said it will make a decision on it in the spring.