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Specialists to Plan Next Step for Sharon

The Israeli prime minister remains in a medically induced coma, although swelling in his brain has subsided slightly, doctors say.

January 08, 2006|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Doctors said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remained in critical condition in a medically induced coma Saturday as fresh tests showed that swelling in his brain had eased slightly after a massive stroke three days earlier.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah University Medical Center, said during an evening briefing that specialists at the hospital in various medical fields would gather today to plan a course of action.

Sharon's life remained in danger after the severe bleeding of the hemorrhagic stroke. One matter to be decided is when doctors will begin trying to wake the prime minister from the coma by gradually reducing the dosage of anesthetics. Only then can they get a clear idea of the extent of brain damage the 77-year-old Sharon has suffered as a result of the stroke, his second in a month.

Assessing the extent of damage, and to what degree Sharon will be able to function, "is indeed the question we would all like answered," Mor-Yosef said during a briefing that was somewhat more detailed than previous ones.

Sharon underwent a CT scan early Saturday to allow his physicians to check for swelling or renewed bleeding after the cerebral hemorrhage and three operations since Wednesday night.

Mor-Yosef said the scan showed a "slight improvement" in swelling, adding that the left side of the brain appeared to have been spared the damage caused to the right side. Speech functions are centered in the left side.

Mor-Yosef said various vital signs -- intracranial pressure, blood pressure and pulse rate -- were within "normal limits." But he cautioned that Sharon's condition remained grave.

"It's still critical and stable," he said in English.

He said that after today's meeting among medical specialists, "we will decide about management for the next 24 hours."

Later, one of Sharon's surgeons told Israel's Channel Two that Sharon's chances of survival were "very high," but that cognitive damage was likely, Associated Press reported.

The briefing was the hospital's first since Friday, when Sharon was rushed into surgery for a third time to stanch new bleeding. Doctors performed back-to-back operations after Sharon suffered the stroke late Wednesday.

He had been scheduled for surgery at Hadassah the following day to repair a small hole in his heart that is thought to have contributed to a minor stroke on Dec. 18.

Doctors said the earlier stroke had caused no lasting damage. He was sent home two days later and was taking blood-thinning medications, which made it more difficult for doctors to stop hemorrhaging during the subsequent episode.

Doctors have described the most recent damage as extensive, and the reports have left little hope that Sharon would ever return to office. His deputy, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, has filled in as prime minister since Wednesday.

Olmert joined Sharon in bolting from the conservative Likud Party two months ago to form a centrist movement that supports steps to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

Olmert is considered the person most likely to lead the new party, Kadima, in national elections scheduled to take place in March. But it is not clear whether Olmert or anyone else in Kadima can muster the same support that the party commanded under Sharon. Polls have shown the party with large leads over the left-leaning Labor Party and Likud.

A pair of surveys taken since Sharon's latest stroke indicated that the party would suffer only a minor dip in support under Olmert, but those findings may be an unreliable gauge because public sympathy for the prime minister remains high.

Olmert was reportedly planning to meet again with Shimon Peres in an effort to persuade him to stay with Kadima and to ignore Labor's calls for him to return to the party he once led. Peres is said to be seeking assurances for a senior post if he stays with Kadima and Olmert becomes prime minister.

Peres, 82, joined Kadima after losing the Labor leadership post to Amir Peretz, a fiery union leader. Analysts say Olmert would gain much from an endorsement by Peres, who is widely respected in Israel and abroad despite repeatedly losing elections.

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