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PEM Adventures Chapter 1

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Stories are a powerful vehicle for education. Combine a story with some active participation and you have the recipe for some great learning. And so, it’s with great delight, that we bring you Chapter 1 of PEM Adventures. First presented at EuSEM 2018 and then again with some spectacular twists by Dan Lumsden, Paediatric Neurologist extraordinaire, Dani has a particular soft spot for Tomas, a little boy who dreams of being a footballer. Join us on a journey (with an inbuilt time travel machine) in managing Tomas, a little boy with a dream…

Meet Tomas, an 8-year-old boy who dreams of playing professional football. He’s been completely well until an ill-fated shopping trip for some new football boots. At 2 o’clock hours, while trying to persuade his mother that he definitely did need the new Premier League football to add to the collection, he developed sudden onset right-sided facial drooping. His mum bundled him into the car and drove him directly to your ED. You look at your watch: it’s now 3.30 pm.

Your assessment is as follows: Tomas is alert and he seems orientated. He has right sided facial weakness and weakness of both his right arm and leg. He has no obvious sensory changes but is struggling to communicate with you as he has global aphasia.

Suspecting the worse, you have a critical decision to make. But what are you going to do?

Call neurology

Call radiology

With a little luck, Tomas has now had neuroimaging and you know he’s had an arterial ischaemic stroke with thrombus occluding the middle cerebral artery without intracranial haemorrhage.

So, what now? You haven’t managed to get hold of a neurologist for love nor money. So do you…

Admit for supportive care

Give Tomas aspirin

Anticoagulate with heparin

Thrombolyse

Organise an angiographic thrombectomy

Refer to neurosurgeons for a hermicraniotomy

After your shift you do a quick google search to look at the evidence around using tPA in children and you stumble across this paper:

Rivkin, M.J., deVeber, G., Ichord, R.N., Kirton, A., Chan, A.K., Hovinga, C.A., Gill, J.C., Szabo, A., Hill, M.D., Scholz, K. and Amlie-Lefond, C., 2015. Thrombolysis in pediatric stroke study. Stroke. 2015: 46(3); 880-885.

Rivkin’s team were part of a huge multi-state stroke research team in North America. They designed the incredibly well thought out and well put together TIPS (Thrombolysis in Paediatric Stroke) study, to look at (A) safety of and (B) dose of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) in children presenting with and arterial ischaemic stroke (AIS). They set out to recruit children aged 2 – 17 with acute AIS and PedNIHSS score between 4 – 24 to receive tPA if initiated within 4.5 hours of symptom onset. Centres were given protocols to manage complications such as intracranial haemorrhage, systemic bleeding, hypotension or angioedema.

Sounds good, right?

Well, in principle, yes.  The study opened in April 2012 but closed only 20 months later in December 2013 because only 1 child had been enrolled and they hadn’t actually been treated due to complications following extubation prior to tPA administration. 

93 children had been screened with 43 having confirmed AIS and the other 50 having a stroke mimic such as migraine, seizure or tumour etc. 

Of the 43 children with AIS about half had medical contraindications to tPA (including moyamoya disease & anticoagulation treatment); 10 were outside the treatment window (including 1 who missed the treatment window by 15 minutes due to delay at scanner); some had a PedNIHSS that was too low ; 1 had a PedNIHSS that was too high; and a couple didn’t have arterial occlusion on imaging.

But it wasn’t a total disaster. Preparing for TIPS also led to the development of Paediatric Stroke Networks in North America.  And designing the TIPS study led to consensus guidelines on the management of stroke in children.

These consensus guidelines derived from the TIPS study design have been extrapolated to the 2017 RCPCH Stroke in Childhood guideline, based on expert opinion and the best available evidence. As well as the full guideline, there’s a simple, easy to follow pathway poster that can be grabbed for quick reference whenever a child presents with potential stroke symptoms.

The poster gives a list of potential stroke presentations, from an unexplained persistent drop in GCS, through acute focal neurology (even if resolved), focal seizures, headaches, ataxia, dizziness, speech disturbance and a prompt to consider stroke in children with sickle cell disease.

It includes a simple, easy to follow, Paediatric National Institute of Health Stroke Scale (that PedNIHSS we’ve talked about) a bit like a Glasgow Coma Scale but specific for paediatric stroke.  The PedNIHSS makes up a really important part of the neurological assessment, a way of scoring the severity of the stroke. It is vitally important that the PedNIHSS is calculated because if the score is very low, with a very minimal deficit at the outset, the risk of thrombolysis outweighs the potential benefit. And if the PedNIHSS score is very high, it’s likely that the child has a very large area of brain damage, with a high risk of haemorrhage into that infarcted territory, again making the risk : benefit ratio too risky. The child’s PedNIHSS score guides your subsequent management.

The pathway lists investigations (which must include coagulation profile and group and save, because of that risk of bleeding), monitoring and neuroimaging. Timing of imaging is key. The guideline states that children should be scanned within 1 hour of presentation to the ED. Pragmatically, this is usually CT with CTA (the angiography component to look at the arteries), because organising an MRI with MRA takes longer. But, if you’re in an institution with great access to MR and you can get your imaging within an hour of presentation then it’s definitely worth a discussion with the radiologist.

If a child has a confirmed AIS, what do we do? The guideline offers two either / or treatments: EITHER aspirin 5mg/kg within an hour, as long as there is no parenchymal haemorrhage OR thrombolysis. The guideline suggests that thrombolysis may be considered in children aged 2-8 and could be considered in children over 8 (some careful wording there because extrapolating evidence from adult studies to an 8 year old is easier than to a 2 year old) provided the PedNIHSS is between 4 and 24 and tPA can be administered within 4.5 hours of symptom onset. There must be either MRA evidence of thrombus or normal or only minimally ischaemic changes on CTA (no huge areas of ischaemia, because the risk of bleeding into it is just too high), with or without evidence of thrombus. And as the biggest risk of giving tPA is haemorrhage, there must be no contraindications, such as abnormal clotting, an underlying bleeding disorder, malignancy, hypertension or moyamoya disease.

It’s really important to note that the treatment for AIS is not the same as for a child with a haemorrhagic stroke (these children need urgent discussion with a neurosurgeon for consideration of evacuation) or a child with an ischaemic stroke secondary to sickle cell disease (pick up the phone, call a haematologist and organise an exchange transfusion). Although not included on the poster, the guideline summary and full guideline give indications for surgical and endovascular interventions in stroke, as well as those nuggets for managing stroke in a child with sickle cell disease or haemorrhagic stroke.

And what about thrombectomy? This is a very active area of interest. In the world of adult AIS there has been a big move towards primary clot removal by thrombectomy rather than clot busting with thrombolysis. In the world of paediatric stroke, although there are some published case series and case reports, we don’t have a clear evidence base or national guidance. Yet.

So, what is the take-home from Tomas’ case? Although stroke is rare in children, it does occur. Thrombolysis is a potential management option given the right conditions, as long as it’s given within the 4.5-hour window. So, next time you see a child with stroke-like symptoms, send bloods early, get early neuroimaging with angio, and pull out the RCPCH Stroke in Childhood poster.

With special thanks to Dr Dan Lumsden, Paediatric Neurologist at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, who inspired the creation of Tomas’ case and presented him so fabulously at the Royal Society of Medicine. Thank you, Dan.

Authors

  • Dani Hall is a PEM consultant in Dublin, member of the DFTB executive team and senior clinical lecturer on the Queen Mary University of London and DFTB PEM MSc. Dani is passionate about advocating for children and young people, and loves good coffee, a good story and her family. She/her.

  • Rachael is a PEM consultant in London, with a real passion for education and supporting juniors. As well as her involvement in PEM Adventures, she is the Child Health Block Lead for King’s College London, and the Co-Events lead for APEM (Association for Paediatric Emergency Medicine). In her spare time she is mainly fuelled by coffee and can be found chasing after two feral toddlers!

  • Sarah is a Paediatric Registrar in London. She likes to be kept busy - whether that’s in the hustle and bustle of Paediatric A&E, or at home with her two children. She also loves medical education and is passionate about improving emergency care for children with mental health needs.

  • In 2018, 3 PEM clinicians (Dani, Rachael and Sarah) were invited to give some paediatric case-based teaching in the last session of a European EM conference. Having been warned that by the end of the day audience enthusiasm waned, they set out to make the session interactive, educational and funny. And thus begun PEM Adventures. Two years on, the team has grown in size and strength, with Costas and Kat joining the ranks to bring their intensivist and trauma magic to the mix. But the team is far bigger than these 5 PEM adventurers, who are indebted to their clever (and sometimes devious) friends and colleagues, helping craft each story into the very ethos of PEM adventures: meaningful education.

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