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Utahns teaching Chinese doctors

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Stroke patients in China — where treatment lags decades behind the United States — are getting a boost from a partnership between Chinese doctors and surgeons at LDS Hospital.

From their U.S. counterparts, Chinese surgeons are learning how to perform carotid endarterectomies — the surgical repair of arteries, performed in the United States at the rate of about 150,000 a year.

"There are a million people waiting for this operation," says Dr. Qin Yi Zhang, a Chinese surgeon who has been in Salt Lake City for the past six weeks learning the ins and outs of acute care and rehabilitation of stroke patients.

Stroke is now the No. 1 killer in urban China and the No. 3 killer in rural China, Zhang says.

LDS surgeons have worked with Chinese surgeons and physicians to set up stroke centers in China to better treat the estimated 1.5 million new stroke patients per year, and the 6 million patients already in treatment. A center has been established in Xi'an and another, bigger one is planned for Beijing.

Last fall, LDS Hospital vascular surgeon Douglas J. Wirthlin visited Xi'an to organize the stroke center there and teach the center's surgical team how to perform carotid endarterectomies. In China, only 150 of the operations were performed last year, most of them in Xi'an.

"This will make a significant difference in the treatment of stroke patients" in China, says Wirthlin.

LDS Hospital is currently the only U.S. hospital teaching Chinese doctors how to perform the carotid surgery.<

"They're at the point we were in about 1960," Wirthlin says.

Because of the isolation imposed by the Cultural Revolution, and the Chinese reluctance to perform autopsies, it wasn't until recently that Chinese doctors even understood the connection between strokes and atherosclerosis, Zhang says.

During his stay in Salt Lake City, Zhang has worked with LDS Hospital doctors Lisa R. Yanase, David K. Ryser and John M. Jacobs, as well as with hospital administrators.