News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘Bringing the hospital to the patient’: UF Health’s Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit serves Alachua County in first year

Correction appended: A previous version of this story said the stroke treatment unit consisted of six paramedics, though it has one and a number of other medical professionals. We regret the error.

Larry Hecht got the call in 2015 when he was working in South Korea – his wife, more than 7,500 miles away in Ocala, was hospitalized after suffering a stroke. He booked the next flight home, making it back to the U.S. in time for Sandy Hecht’s surgery to unblock her carotid artery, which kept her in the hospital for days afterward.

When Sandy, now 82, got home from the hospital, she couldn’t read, tell time, use the TV remote or dial a telephone, Larry Hecht said. To a certain extent, she couldn’t walk or talk.

“There were several kinds of permanent damage,” Larry Hecht, 85, said. “Her eyes are fine, but she’s blind looking to the left because her brain doesn’t process information coming from the left.”

The Florida Department of Health reported that in 2022, the rate of deaths from stroke in Alachua County was higher than the rate for the entire state of Florida, per 100,000 people.

In stroke cases like Sandy Hecht’s, the patient’s best interest is to act as quickly as possible to avoid any long-term damage or disability to the brain. According to the National Institute of Health, 1.9 million brain cells are lost every minute during a stroke, and they cannot be recovered.

That’s where UF Health’s Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit, or MSTU, comes into play. Stationed at UF Health Professional Park, the MSTU is a specialized ambulance carrying equipment to diagnose a stroke and begin immediate treatment when arriving on scene and on the way to the nearest comprehensive stroke center.

The MSTU hit its seven-month anniversary on Sunday – responding to several hundred calls and admitting around 240 patients since it began, according to MSTU director Dr. Nicolle Davis.

The unit is the first of its kind in Florida, with only 16 operational nationwide. In July, medical director Dr. Anna Khanna and other leaders at UF Health implemented the MSTU in Gainesville.

“In the almost seven months we have been in service, we have been able to bring stroke care to the community more quickly,” Davis said. “We are bringing the hospital to the patient where they’re at to decrease time to treatment, which is helping to improve survivability and outcomes with stroke.”

The interior of the truck is equipped with a cardiac monitor, a stretcher and an OmniTom 16-slice CT scanner to be able to diagnosis and treat stroke in the field. Multiple cameras are hooked up inside the unit for UF Health’s vascular neurologists to communicate with both the crew and the patient during their assessment, similar to a telehealth appointment.

Pictured, from back to front, are David Lykens, Rebekah Webb, James Riddling, Elizabeth Pridgen, Tiffany Mott and Nicolle Davis, who share a passion for their life-saving work. Webb, a CT technologist, moved all the way from Louisiana for the opportunity to work on this truck. (Brooke Davidson/WUFT News)

Its team — consisting of a registered nurse, CT technologist, EMT and paramedic — works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. When they’re dispatched to anywhere in the 30-mile radius of Alachua County, the MSTU crew has 60 seconds to get to the truck and get on the road.

According to UF Health data through the end of January, the unit’s average response time is 12 minutes. They then treat the patient appropriately and transport them to the closest comprehensive stroke center.

The team has heard anecdotal stories where patients are discharged home within a few days of being treated on the MSTU, Davis said, but data on long-term outcomes is still being collected.

Emergency Medical Technician James Riddling described seeing patients who cannot talk or move when the unit first reaches them. After administering a blood-thinning medication, he unloads those same patients, who have regained these functions.

“That’s the biggest thrill right there,” Riddling said.

MSTU nurse Tiffany Mott shared similar sentiments: “It’s nice being able to help people on their worst day, take such a chaotic situation and explain what’s going on to them step-by-step.”

At the station, the crew’s job is to provide stroke education and further training until the next call. According to Davis, they do this because only one in five people nationally know how to recognize a stroke.

“We are no good if you don’t call 911,” she added.

The acronym F.A.S.T. is displayed on the back of the dark blue truck, indicating stroke symptoms: facial drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty. T stands for “Time to call 911.”

“It could be one of those or it could be all of those, but call 911, have the Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit come to you, so we can get you diagnosed and get you treated more quickly,” Davis said.

Although the MSTU only covers Alachua County, outside emergency medical services agencies in contiguous counties can contact Alachua County Dispatch, requesting for the MSTU to meet them halfway at a predesignated spot to transfer the patient from one rescue unit to the other.

This would allow people living in certain nearby counties to still have the chance to receive more immediate treatment after a stroke. It took three years for her to regain the occupational skills she lost after the stroke in 2015.

These cases can be reduced with the introduction of the Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit.

UF Health’s next MSTU will launch in The Villages, Davis said, but there is still no set timeline as to when.

A cardiac monitor connected to a stretcher is one of the crucial pieces of equipment the truck carries. “We are able to handle anything from strokes to cardiac arrests and everything in between,” said Alachua County Fire Rescue Captain of EMS Special Operations David Lykens.

Brooke is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing