Strokes: Risk Factors, Treatments and COVID-19 Long-haulers

Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine

As the world continues to reopen after a global pandemic, we check in and revisit Dr. Ronen Leker, the director of the Stroke Unit and The Peritz and Chantel Scheinberg Cerebrovascular Disease Research Laboratory at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem. Dr. Leker is talking with host Benyamin Cohen about the link between stroke and COVID-19 long-haulers, stroke treatments and his research.

About this episode

Dr. Ronen Leker, MD is the director of the Stroke Unit and The Peritz and Chantel Scheinberg Cerebrovascular Disease Research Laboratory at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.  After completing his residency at Hadassah Medical Organization, he established the Cerebrovascular Research laboratory at Hadassah in 1996. Dr. Leker is an expert on treatment and prevention of cerebrovascular disease including ischemic stroke and intracranial hemorrhage. His research focuses on  the use of neural stem cells as a novel therapy for strokes.

Dr. Leker has published over 160 research papers and serves on the editorial board of several international journals. He is a member of several academic societies and a fellow of the American Stroke Association, the European Stroke Organization, and the American Heart Association. Dr. Leker is the former head of the academic department of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Rehabilitation Medicine and mentors research students and residents in Neurology and Neurobiology while serving on several committees at the Hadassah Medical Organization.

It's hard to surprise Dr. Ronen Leker, one of the world’s leading stroke experts. For decades, he has been the director of the stroke center at Hadassah Hospital and, before that, at the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. He has spent decades researching the causes and effects of strokes — understanding how diet, exercise, age and genetics can all lead up to that fateful, life-changing moment when someone suffers a stroke. And yet, in recent months, there's been some strange new cases walking into his examination rooms.

These are the COVID long-haulers who complain of memory issues, concentration impairment and long-term fatigue. "There are a lot of COVID survivors who come and say, 'Well, I have this ongoing tingling in my face. I have this ongoing numbness in my arm,'" Dr. Leker explains in this month's episode of the "Hadassah on Call" podcast. He conducted MRIs of these patients’ brains and the spines. "There’s nothing," he says, a bit perplexed. "We can't see anything."

He has begun to put together some pieces of the puzzle. COVID impacts not only the cells in the lungs, but also in the brain — which is Dr. Leker's specialty.

Hadassah Hospital was part of a global cohort of doctors that studied the connection between COVID and strokes. They discovered that there's a higher incidence of stroke in younger patients without any risk factors. Armed with this newfound information, medical teams around the world are now better able to detect strokes in the crucial moments as they are happening.

For Dr. Leker and his colleagues at Hadassah, 2020 was a year like no other. But now, standing on the other side of the pandemic, he sees hope. "A revolution has occurred in neurology," he says, "and I was lucky to be part of that history." Patients who, in previous years would die or become paralyzed are now recovering thanks to better treatment options.

"I saw this gentleman who came in with a very large right carotid artery occlusion, large stroke, was completely paralyzed." Dr. Leker and his colleagues were able to remove the clot, offering him a second chance at life. "The patient came yesterday for a one-month checkup after the stroke. He's walking. He's telling me jokes."

Dr. Leker pauses to consider the moment. "What else can you ask for, right? This is what we do as doctors. We're supposed to help patients. We saved him."

What else you'll hear in this episode:

  • Why some people are more at risk for strokes than others
  • The science behind silent strokes
  • What treatment options are available for stroke patients

Further learning:

Read a transcript of this episode.

“Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine” is a production of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah enhances the health of people around the world through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine please head over to

Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcast app. If you haven't already, please leave us a review on the iTunes store. It only takes a minute and when you do it helps others discover "Hadassah on Call."

The show is hosted by Benyamin Cohen and edited by Skyler Inman and the team at the Hadassah offices in both New York and Israel.

This episode includes a promotion for:

The Branch
This podcast offers a glimpse into the everyday lives of Jews and Arabs in Israel forging meaningful relationships. Presented by Hadassah and hosted by Dina Kraft, "The Branch" shines a light on the stories of people living the example of a shared society. Together. Even though it’s complicated.