Specialists Break Barriers to Combat Strokes in the Valley


Interventional neurology is a medical advancement in the Rio Grande Valley. The subspecialty is expanding in Brownsville and McAllen and provides faster and more effective treatments for patients needing immediate attention.

Interventional neurology represents a labor-intensive approach to counteracting strokes and other emergencies. Traditional stroke treatments include the administration of tenecteplase (TNK) and tissue plasminogen activators (tPA), blood-thinning medications that dissolve blood clots in ischemic or blood flow-related strokes. More specialized treatments, however, allow neurosurgeons to remove blood clots with minimally invasive operations manually. Such interventional techniques require neuroendovascular specialists, who conduct procedures inside blood vessels to target neurological disorders. These specialists are trained to combat a number of neurological emergencies, including ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, aneurysms, and arteriovenous malformations.

Dr. Hamzah M. Saei, M.D., a neurology specialist at Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen and Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, explains that the need for subspeciality in the Valley has expanded over time.

“When our program first started about seven years ago in McAllen, people were intrigued to have 24/7 neurology coverage finally,” Saei said. “The more complex cases began to come in because now there was a larger pool of patients.”

The increase in interventional cases led to a need for neuroendovascular specialists. Rio Grande Regional Hospital faced a challenge in recruiting physicians to the Valley, so Saei and his colleagues sought to create a devoted team from within the surrounding community.

“We’re heavily invested in this community because most of us are from the Valley,” Saei said. “Our program is set up from within, and that’s the key difference of how it’s structured compared to others. We’re building a family.”

Among the program’s local recruits is Dr. Sohum Desai, M.D., a board-certified neurosurgeon at both hospitals. Desai has practiced general neurosurgery for two years at Rio Grande Regional Hospital and notes that the availability of interventional techniques can provide better patient outcomes at both facilities.

“The faster we can get to patients who have any sort of neurologic issue, the better off they’ll be,” Desai said. “They’ll be treated faster and earlier rather than being transferred.”

Patients have varied responses to blood-thinning medications, meaning that interventional techniques are critical in some cases of ischemic stroke. Neuroendovascular specialists in Brownsville and McAllen seek to increase treatment options at no loss of time.

“There’s been a definite community need,” Desai said. “By the time a stroke leaves Brownsville and gets up to the Harlingen area, that tissue that we were trying to salvage may already be lost.”

The hospital’s neuroendovascular capability represents a new medical service in Brownsville. Desai notes that preparations are ongoing, and that the neuroendovascular program at Valley Regional Medical Center is expected to launch this June.

Neuroendovascular treatments come with reliance on medical technology. Specialists determine the cause of neurological disorders with a bi-plane imaging system, in which two cameras generate a three-dimensional blood vessel scan known as an angiogram. Procedures such as mechanical thrombectomy, which targets brain arteries in strokes with large vessel occlusion, utilize a small mechanical device at the tip of a catheter tube to remove arterial clotting.

“It’s very technology-driven,” Desai said. “But people are even more of a key piece.”

“When you get into the interventional world, you have to rely on so many different factors,” Saei added. “That includes the technological equipment, devices, and personnel. You go from being a one-man show to relying on a whole team of personnel.”

Saei and his team are working to create a fail-proof medical network within the Rio Grande Valley, a goal that has required eighteen months of specialized training. He notes that industry advancements and personnel needs have spurred the need for medical progress in the community.

“My biggest pride thus far is being able to recruit people that I trust to care for me and my family,” Saei said. “Since we could not recruit somebody who could do these interventional procedures, we decided to teach ourselves.”

The Hospitals’ initiative has, therefore, equipped Brownsville and McAllen with the foremost advances in neurological care. Specialists at Rio Grande Regional Hospital and Valley Regional Medical Center hope to provide security for families throughout the Valley by refining their services at every opportunity.

Bill Hill