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Stroke Program Team

The treatment of stroke requires a team approach to get patients the comprehensive care they need.

The Rush Stroke Program is one of the largest and busiest Joint Commission certified Comprehensive Stroke Programs in the region.

The Rush Stroke Program provides the highest level of emergency care for acute stroke patients, through collaboration with the Section of Cerebrovascular Disease, neurocritical care, vascular neurosurgery and emergency medicine.

Section of Cerebrovascular Disease

Stroke neurologists provide comprehensive follow-up care to Rush stroke patients in the outpatient stroke clinic; they also welcome those seeking a second opinion after stroke.

Stroke neurologists in the Section of Cerebrovascular Disease run a neurovascular ultrasound laboratory, specializing in transcranial Doppler and carotid ultrasound.

Laurel J. Cherian, MD, MS

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Laurel J. Cherian, MD, MS, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush University Medical Center. She is the director of the vascular neurology fellowship program and also serves as a faculty advisor to the medical school.

Cherian received her medical degree from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Ill. She completed neurology residency at the University of Chicago and a vascular neurology fellowship at Rush University Medical Center. In addition to her clinical practice, she has completed a Master of Science degree in clinical research.

She is a member of the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Neurology and is board-certified in neurology with a subspecialty certification in vascular neurology. Her clinical interests include peripartum stroke, intra-arterial therapy for stroke, post-stroke depression, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

James J. Conners, MD, MS

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James J. Conners, MD, MS, is an associate professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush. He is head of the Section of Cerebrovascular Disease. He is also medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program and Rush's telestroke and mobile stroke unit programs.

He received his medical degree at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from Loyola University, where his research focused on neuronal regeneration.

Conners then completed a medical internship, neurology residency and vascular neurology fellowship at Northwestern University. His interests include the acute treatment of stroke, cryptogenic strokes (strokes with no definitive cause) and stroke prevention.

Rima M. Dafer, MD, MPH

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Rima M. Dafer, MD, MPH, is an associate professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush. She is a stroke and headache expert, mainly studying the link between migraines and stroke.

Dafer has been a principal investigator on numerous clinical trials in acute stroke intervention and secondary stroke prevention. She sits on the American Board of Vascular Neurology Examination Committee and is a fellow at the American Heart Association.

She is a clinical educator and has received numerous teaching accolades as best teacher of the year by neurology residents and medical students. She has written numerous articles and chapters on stroke management, stroke in young adults and uncommon causes of stroke.

Nicholas D. Osteraas, MD

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Nicholas D. Osteraas, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush.  He completed an internship in internal medicine, residency in neurology and fellowship in vascular neurology all at Rush University Medical Center.  

Osteraas is actively investigating coagulopathy occurring after the administration of intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) and has an interest in the acute care of ischemic stroke patients.

Osteraas has presented at several international conferences and has multiple manuscripts under submission for publication. He is a member of the American Academy of Neurology and American Heart Association.

Sarah Song, MD, MPH

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Sarah Song, MD, MPH, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush.

Song received a medical degree and master's degree from the University of Illinois. She completed neurology residency training at Georgetown University Hospital and then completed a vascular neurology fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in stroke outcomes research with the American Heart Association.

Song's clinical expertise includes cerebrovascular disease, stroke, stroke prevention and transient ischemic attack. She has a special interest in stroke in women and minorities.

Alejandro Vargas, MD

Alejandro Vargas, MD, Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

Alejandro Vargas, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush.

After receiving a master's degree in biomedical sciences at Barry University, Vargas received his medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine (UIC). He also completed his medical internship and neurology residency at UIC, serving as chief resident in his final year. In 2016, he was honored with the Melvin Wichter, MD Award for Teaching Excellence and the Nirav Mehta, MD Resident Humanitarian Award.

Vargas is a member of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. His research interests include access to care and ethnic disparities in stroke among Hispanic populations, stroke in young adults, atypical stroke causes and Moyamoya Disease.

Section of Critical Care Neurology

Neurocritical care specialists, known as neurointensivists, provide intensive care management for patients with life-threatening neurological and neurosurgical illnesses, including stroke and ruptured aneurysms.

Torrey Boland Birch, MD

Torrey Bolland Birth, MD, Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center

Torrey Boland Birch, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush, as well as the neurocritical care fellowship director.

After receiving her medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University, she completed her residency in neurology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, followed by a fellowship in neurological critical care in the Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital combined program.

Birch is board certified in neurology with subspecialty certification in neurocritical care. Her interests include subarachnoid hemorrhage, encephalitis, intracerebral hemorrhage, stroke and brain death.

Sayona John, MD

Sayona John, MD, Section Head, Critical Care Neurology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

Sayona John, MD, is an associate professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences; head of the Section of Critical Care Neurology; and medical director of the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit and Neuroemergency Transfer Program at Rush.

John completed her residency training at the University of Mississippi in 2005, followed by fellowships in neurocritical care and stroke at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2007. She joined Rush in 2008 after working for one year at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas.

Her research interests primarily involve patients with intracerebral hemorrhage. She was nominated as an executive committee member for the NIH-sponsored CLEAR III trial and was the top enroller for this trial.

Lauren Koffman, DO, MS

Lauren Koffman, DO, MS, Neurointensivist, Department of Neurological Surgery, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

Lauren Koffman, DO, MS, is a neurointensivist and assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush.

She completed medical school at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York, followed by a neurology residency at Cleveland Clinic and neurocritical care fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Additionally she obtained a Master of Science in Clinical Research from Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions.

Koffman is board certified in neurology and neurocritical care with interests in intracerebral hemorrhage and sleep in the intensive care unit. She is a member of the Neurocritical Care Society, American Heart Association, Society of Critical Care Medicine and American Academy of Neurology. Koffman is also on the editorial board for the Neurocritical Care Society publication, Currents.

Sebastian Pollandt, MD

Sebastian Pollandt, MD, Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

Sebastian Pollandt, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush, as well as the neurocritical care assistant fellowship director.

He received his medical degree from Charite-Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, then completed his residency in neurology at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, remaining in Cincinnati to complete a neurocritical care fellowship with an emphasis on epilepsy.

Pollandt is board certified in neurology, with subspecialty certifications in neurocritical care and epilepsy.

Neurological Surgery

Neurosurgical specialists in stroke provide immediate stroke care in emergencies through the use of interventions to restore blood flow in the brain, such as mechanical thrombectomy.

Michael Chen, MD

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Michael Chen, MD, is a board-certified physician with appointments in the departments of neurology, neurosurgery and radiology. 

Chen's practice focuses on minimally invasive, endovascular treatments of brain and spinal cord vascular disease. Specifically, he is involved in the study and treatment of brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations of the brain and spine, intracranial atherosclerosis, carotid artery stenosis, acute stroke thrombolysis and preoperative tumor embolization of the brain and spine.

He has been in practice at Rush for 10 years and has been awarded grants to study cerebral aneurysms in women and treatments for memory loss after cerebral aneurysm rupture.

He has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed scientific papers and is an editor for the "Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery."

R. Webster Crowley, MD

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R. Webster Crowley, MD, is a board-certified endovascular neurosurgeon who has expertise in the treatment of brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, carotid stenosis, and stenting for pseudotumor cerebri.

Crowley is a fellowship-trained endovascular surgeon who received his medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington D.C. His training consists of neurological surgery residency at University of Virginia, a neurological surgery fellowship at Auckland City Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, and an endovascular fellowship at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

He is currently a member of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, AANS/CNS Section on Cerebrovascular Surgery, the American Heart Association, and the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery.

Kiffon Keigher, RN, MSN, ACPN

Kiffon Keigher, RN, MSN, ACPN, is a nurse practitioner with many years of experience in neurosurgery and neuroscience nursing.

She has been at Rush University Medical Center since 2003. She worked for seven years as a neuroscience intensive care unit nurse before starting her career as an advanced practice nurse.

Keigher has certification as an acute care nurse practitioner, a certified neuroscience nurse (CNRN) and a certified critical care nurse (CCRN). In addition, she has certifications in advanced life support (BLS, ACLS, PALS) and administering the NIH stroke scale (NIHSS).

She is published in the journal Endovascular Today. Keigher works primarily with Demetrius Lopes, MD.

Demetrius Lopes, MD

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Demetrius Lopes, MD, is the director of neuroendovascular surgery at Rush. He is a nationally recognized leader in neuroendovascular therapy, an approach to treating brain and spinal cord diseases from inside the blood vessels, having pioneered many of the techniques and devices used in neuroendovascular procedures.

He specializes in the revascularization (restoration of blood circulation) in the brain, including the treatment of brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, cerebral ischemia, stroke and the conditions leading to stroke.

Lopes has written many articles and chapters on various aspects of neuroendovasclar therapy, including carotid stenting.

Lopes began his medical education in 1987 at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, and joined Rush University Medical Center in 2001. He is board-certified in neurosurgery.