HMH physicians present groundbreaking stroke research at international conference

Cuccurullo, Fleming explain how modified cardiac rehab reduces stroke deaths, reduces costs and improves outcomes

Is there a way to provide better outcomes for stroke victims — and provide it at a lower cost?

Dr. Sara Cuccurullo and Dr. Talya Fleming, physicians at the Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, are showing that the ideas do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Cuccurullo and Fleming were keynote speakers at the recent John Hopkins Medicine conference, “Recovery after Stroke: State of the Science and Future Innovations” — where they outlined their groundbreaking research on stroke care to an international audience of clinical leaders.

The goal of the conference was to bring together leading scientists, researchers and interdisciplinary clinicians for a rigorous review of the state of the science and the innovative ways forward.

The Hackensack Meridian Health physicians described how a modified cardiac rehabilitation program can significantly reduce deaths and improve outcomes for survivors of a serious stroke.

Cuccurullo is vice president and medical director of JFK Johnson and Fleming is medical director of the JFK Johnson Stroke Recovery and Aftercare Program. They addressed the physicians, nurses, therapists and other health care specialists in the fields of neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and primary care.

Cuccurullo and Fleming told the audience, which included attendees from six continents, that Medicare currently requires patients recovering from stroke to use Medicare funding within the Medicare therapy cap for outpatient therapies. In contrast, patients with cardiac disease can receive cardiac rehabilitation outside the therapy cap.

“The cap puts stroke patients at a disadvantage,” Cuccurullo said. “We believe patients with stroke deserve the same comprehensive rehabilitation program that patients with cardiac disease receive.”

The JFK Johnson Stroke Recovery Program provides 36 sessions of medically monitored interval cardiovascular training — as well as follow-up visits with a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician along with psychological, nutritional and educational support and risk factor (such as smoking, diet, and exercise) management. The cardiac rehabilitation is modified for patients with stroke.

“As a nation, we need to do more to help patients with stroke improve their lives — to improve both their longevity and quality of life,” Fleming said.

The research is being expanded to include rehabilitation centers across the country.