As the vascular neurologist who treats stroke victims at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Dr. Neer Zeevi’s medical game plan for each patient comes in part from his experiences as a doctor in the Israeli Army.
“It was a very difficult time. It was during the defensive shield initiative by Ariel Sharon and military resources were stretched thin, with altercations on many fronts. I was the only physician in our 600-soldier battalion,” he recalls. “The motto I took to heart during those days was ‘To prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ and I call on that a lot today.”
“In the Stroke Center,” he explains, “we really are prepared for almost anything that comes in our doors. And we hope we can get our patients the treatment they need in a very timely fashion. Our goal is to reverse the injury from the stroke and preserve brain tissue while maintaining patients’ functional abilities.”
Although Dr. Zeevi spent time in Israel, “I’m a Connecticut Boy at heart,” he explains. “Being at L+M, I’ve come back to my roots.”
Dr. Zeevi grew up in Westport, CT, attended Brandeis University, just outside of Boston, and then went to medical school at the Technion (the Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa, Israel, before signing up for military duty.
“It was an honor taking care of soldiers,” he adds. “They are national heroes, sacrificing their youth and skills to help protect and defend the country.”
Dr. Zeevi returned to the United States after his service in Israel and trained in neurology at the University of Connecticut, including additional training in geriatrics and vascular neurology. (Today, Zeevi is also an assistant professor at UConn.)
“I knew back in college that I wanted to be a neurologist,” he says. “I was working in a lab that was studying neuro-plasticity. We worked on hamsters that had been surgically altered so that their visual system projected to their auditory cortex and auditory stimuli went to their visual cortex. What’s amazing is that if you do that at an early enough stage, the brain can adopt and interpret different messages. We used to say that these hamsters could see thunder and hear lightening.”
Says Dr. Zeevi: “That plasticity of the neural system is what I still find fascinating. We see it with stroke victims and the amazing ability of the brain to overcome injury. We see patients who have had major strokes and then come back to have an amazing quality of life – active and participating in their community.
“That’s what drives me,” Dr. Zeevi says: “To be able to get to the patient when a stroke happens and then lead them on that path of recovery.”
But time is of the essence, Dr. Zeevi emphasizes. If you or someone you know shows signs of stroke, such as the sudden onset of slurred speech, one-sided weakness or sensory loss, act fast.
“Call 911 without delay, and get here so we can assess you,” Dr. Zeevi says. “It’s unfortunate that in a lot of the cases people wait for symptoms to get better or they go to see their primary care doctor. Often, by the time they get here, they are out of that very narrow therapeutic window for us to intervene and start correcting some of the damage.”
If caught early, Dr. Zeevi can often administer clot-busting drugs to stroke victims, saving brain function. And, when he’s not on duty, L+M’s Telestroke program with Yale means a neurologist is always available to assess a patient and give clearance for the clot-busting medication.
“When we have a case that responds really well, we can see the patient’s weakness improve right before our eyes,” Dr. Zeevi says. “We can see speech start to come back. Sometimes within minutes or days of the treatment, we can see a person going from severe disability to nearly full functioning.”
The Stroke Center at L+M is “on the forefront in a number of areas,” Dr. Zeevi says. “With our Telestroke program, our inpatient rehabilitation facilities and our inpatient neurological unit – it’s really unique to have all of that in one place. It’s one of the reasons L+M is such a great place to practice.”
To learn more about Dr. Zeevi, click here.