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Pediatric Stroke Center

 

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The Children's Mercy Comprehensive Stroke Center is the only pediatric stroke center in the region. In addition, our multidisciplinary stroke clinic is one of just ten in the nation. The center is prepared to respond quickly to any child who comes in with stroke symptoms.

Symptoms in children are different than symptoms in adults, and Children’s Mercy emergency room physicians are specially trained to spot the warning signs in a child and activate our stroke protocol immediately. Our transport team can rapidly bring a child with stroke symptoms to the downtown Children’s Mercy campus from anywhere in the area.

“Recognition and early intervention are critical to minimizing damage from stroke.”

Mukta Sharma, MD, FAAP, MPH, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you think your child is having a stroke, call 9-1-1. See more information below about pediatric stroke symptoms.

Pediatric stroke risk factors


Strokes in children are as common as brain tumors, with about 11 out of every 100,000 children experiencing a stroke each year. They are one of the top 10 causes of death in children.

At Children’s Mercy, we treat as many as 100 children experiencing stroke each year. We are actively working to increase awareness among emergency departments and first responders about the symptoms of stroke in children.

Congenital heart disease and sickle cell anemia are two common risk factors for pediatric stroke. But stroke can happen in otherwise healthy children as well. 

The most common type of pediatric stroke is a perinatal stroke, which can happen anytime between 28 weeks gestation (before a baby is born) to 28 days after birth. This type of stroke often leads to cerebral palsy or other developmental complications.

Strokes can happen at any age. However, many advances in diagnosis and treatment provide hope for families whose children are affected by stroke. 

Stroke care at Children’s Mercy—what to expect


Our stroke team is on call 24/7. If doctors suspect a stroke, your child will immediately receive an MRI to scan his brain. A pediatric neurologist will be at the bedside to analyze the scan right away.

In order to get an accurate picture of the brain, your child may need to be asleep during the MRI to help remain still. A pediatric anesthesiologist is always available at Children’s Mercy to help your child through this part of the MRI.

Stroke specialists


The pediatric stroke team includes specialists from several departments at Children’s Mercy. Because a stroke affects the brain, your care team will include providers who understand what’s happening in your child’s brain and how to address those issues. Team members include staff from neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, anesthesiology, and the pediatric intensive care unit.

The team is led by Dr. Roha Khalid, a pediatric neurologist who trained specifically in pediatric stroke treatment, and Dr. Mukta Sharma, a pediatric hematologist who is an expert on blood disorders. Dr. Sathya Vadivelu brings the expertise of our Rehabilitation Medicine team to children recovering from a stroke.

Read more about our rehabilitation services at Children’s Mercy.

Treatments

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The time between stroke onset and treatment is critical. Even with a quick response, some damage from a stroke can be irreversible. Depending on the length of time since the stroke, there are several options for pediatric stroke treatment.

Medication


A clot-busting medication called tPA, or Tissue Plasminogen Activator, is a treatment commonly used in adult stroke cases but not yet approved for children under 18. However, Children’s Mercy participates in a research trial that is studying the use of tPA in kids. In some cases, when the clot is identified within three hours, we are able to offer clot-busting medications to treat children with stroke.


Surgery


If your child’s care team determines that surgical clot retrieval, known as mechanical thrombectomy, is the best course of treatment, we partner with the University of Kansas Stroke Center for their equipment and expertise in this procedure.

Developmental Follow-Up


In some cases, especially with perinatal strokes that happen before or shortly after birth, symptoms may not appear for weeks or even months after the stroke occurred. In these cases, a team of various specialists will work together to provide the best possible care for your child throughout her development. You’ll continue to check in with your Stroke Clinic team periodically as your child grows to ensure she’s getting the help she needs.

Experts in rehabilitation and recovery


Children’s Mercy can also help your child with functional recovery following a stroke. While stroke can have a lasting impact, the potential for functional recovery in children is promising. With appropriate care and management from our doctors and physical, occupational and speech therapists--all experts in working with kids--we can help children who have suffered a stroke get back to just being kids.

Research collaborations


Children's Mercy collaborates with other organizations as part of the International Pediatric Stroke Study, a group of physicians and researchers dedicated to expanding the knowledge of pediatric stroke.

Symptoms

A pediatric stroke occurs when blood stops flowing to a child’s brain, cutting off the delivery of oxygen and vital nutrients. Most people are familiar with stroke in adults, but it’s important to recognize that stroke can happen at any age.

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you think your child is having a stroke, call 9-1-1. Once a stroke begins, up to 2 million brain cells die each minute, so time is critical.

Stroke symptoms in children

One way to check for stroke is the FAST test:

Face: Is there a droop?

Arms: Can the child raise both arms?

Speech: Is the child’s speech slurred?

Time: If symptoms are present, it’s time to call 9-1-1.

Other symptoms of stroke can include the sudden onset of:

  • Severe headache

  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

  • Confusion or difficulty speaking clearly

  • Vision loss

  • Difficulty walking/loss of balance

  • Seizures localized to one side of the body

See a printable guide to stroke symptoms in children.

The Pediatric Stroke Center at Children's Mercy helps children of all ages who are experiencing stroke symptoms or need treatment and rehabilitation services after a stroke has occurred.