The brains of the 900,000 Jerusalemites are safer, now that Shaare Zedek Medical Center has opened its Helmsley Neurological Center on campus, which is accessible from any part of the capital and able to treat strokes and other conditions quickly.
While Hadassah-University Medical Center contains the same infrastructure, the fact that Shaare Zedek – whose trauma center has been upgraded to “Level One” due to its new neurosurgery capabilities – is opposite Mount Herzl and much closer than the Ein Kerem complex, meaning it could save additional lives. Stroke is the third-biggest cause of death in Israel after cancer and heart disease.
“There are tens of billions of neurons in the brain, and after an ischemic stroke [caused by a clot in a vessel], one loses two million nerve cells every minute. If you can get patients to a computerized tomography [CT scan] unit to diagnose the stroke and give medication to melt the stroke, you can prevent or at least minimize the resulting disability,” said Shaare Zedek director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy. The opening of the center, Halevy added, is a “milestone in our 114-year history. The fate of many stroke, neurological and neurosurgical patients in Jerusalem is being changed today.”
The early signs of stroke are sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes; or sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination. In some cases, the patient has suffered a transient ischemic attack that goes away in 24 hours but which could predict a future stroke, but the initial symptoms are the same for both conditions.
At least one neurologist will be waiting for the suspected stroke victim at the entrance to the hospital’s emergency department. Time counts, said Halevy, who added that the hospital developed a smartphone application in which an ambulance medic who suspects a patient has had a stroke immediately informs the stroke unit to prepare and receive the patient.
Some 90% of strokes are ischemic, which can be treated with tissue plasminogen activator to melt the clot and let the blood flow through the brain. In the remaining 10%, when uncontrolled hemorrhage causes the stroke, the activator cannot be used.
Halevy noted that his hospital treated the majority of victims in the “knife intifada” that begin in the fall of 2015. Its ideal location, saving vital minutes, meant that more of them survived.
Three leading neurosurgeons left Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center to join Shaare Zedek’s new neurological center. Because they have to be ready to work at a moment’s notice, the former Dan region residents have moved to apartments rented by the hospital in the Ramat Beit Hakerem neighborhood across the street.
Arriving in recent months and starting to work immediately, the newcomers are Dr. Nevo Margalit (previously deputy head of neurosurgery at Sourasky); Dr. Tal Shahar, a specialist in oncological neurosurgery; and Dr. Lior Gonen, who did a fellowship at the University of Toronto. Another senior physician to come to Shaare Zedek is Dr. Roni Eichel, who left Hadassah, where he was a founder of its stroke unit.
Dr. Yaakov Amsalem, chairman of invasive neuroradiology at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, joined Shaare Zedek as well, but he was not at the ceremony held on Wednesday because he was called to consult on an urgent neurology case in Italy.
Prof. Natan Bornstein, a senior neurologist at Sourasky who has a worldwide reputation in stroke treatment and research, has also become director and coordinator of the whole neurological, neurosurgical and neuroradiological service at Shaare Zedek. Bornstein is also chairman of the Israel Neurological Association and vice president of the prestigious World Stroke Organization.
The largest donation to the new center – $5 million – was made by New York’s Leona and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust. One of the three trustees, lawyer Sandy Frankel, and his wife, Ruth, attended Wednesday’s ceremony for the building of the neuroradiology section of the center which should be ready for use in three months.
Neither of the Helmsleys was ever in Israel and billionaire businessman Harry Helmsley was not Jewish.
“If they had been able to attend this ceremony, I think they would say ‘Nice work!’” said Frankel. The 94-employee, $5.4 billion trust has donated $1.64b. since its inception in 2009 to institutions and projects in the US and other countries. But Israel is the only country to receive funding for an entire program since 2010; Jerusalem alone has received $23m., mostly for medical and scientific institutions.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post after the ceremony, Sandy Frankel said he had been Leona Helmsley’s personal lawyer for the last 18 years of her life. Frankel added that there was no need to thank him and the trust, because, he said, it is a “privilege and high honor to participate in a project like this and all our projects in Israel. It makes you feel really good inside.”
Israel and its people “mean so much to us. We think about you all the time,” said Frankel, whose wife was born in Petah Tikva. “You face a tsunami of hatred... You are a true democracy in a sea of turmoil.
You should know that you are not alone. Millions of Americans think of you all the time.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said it was amazing to see patients being rushed to the hospital with a stroke and to see those who could be treated walk out on their own feet, without a disability. He added that the new Helmsley Center, along with facilities at Hadassah, will contribute to the development of medical care and research, and to the population and financial strength of the capital.