Doctors to end Sharon's coma

Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 11:45 p.m.
JERUSALEM - Doctors said Sunday they plan to begin reviving Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on this morning, a procedure that could provide the best opportunity thus far to assess the extent of brain damage he suffered due to a massive stroke.
The 77-year-old prime minister, who has remained in a medically induced coma for four days, continued Sunday in critical but stable condition, said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of the Hadassah University Medical Center. Doctors expected to begin easing his sedation today and testing his responses, he said.
''This is what we are all waiting for since Wednesday: to know how the prime minister's brain is functioning,'' Mor-Yosef told reporters during a daily briefing outside the hospital.
Mor-Yossef said a brain scan Sunday showed swelling in Sharon's brain had continued to subside slightly. Other vital signs, such as blood pressure and pulse rate, were ''within the norm,'' he said, and there were no indications of fever or infection.
Sharon has hovered near death, connected to a respirator, since suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage late Wednesday, and has undergone three delicate brain surgeries in the time since. While he may survive, Sharon is not expected to return to his job as head of the Israeli government.
''The (medical) team has decided to begin reducing the prime minister's sedation (this) morning, given of course that no significant changes occur,'' Mor-Yosef said. ''The process will begin of decreasing the level of sedation and testing the prime minister's neurological functions.''
The doctor previously said the right side of Sharon's brain appeared to have been damaged but the left side, which controls speech, was ''intact.''
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday presided over the first regular Cabinet meeting without Sharon, whose tan leather chair was left empty at the table where the ministers gathered.
Attempting to project a business-as-usual image of calm and governmental stability, Olmert delivered a planned report on Israel's economic performance for 2005. Olmert is financial minister as well as being one of Sharon's closest allies, and officials are keen to reassure foreign investors and prevent a collapse of the Israeli stock market.
But the void left by Sharon - in all fields, from politics to efforts to make peace with the Palestinians - has been enormous. In the government, he held 12 ministerial posts for himself, and Olmert will eventually have to figure out how to divvy them out. Israel faces national elections March 28, a poll that Sharon was expected to win handily with his newly created centrist party, Kadima.
His stroke has thrown Israeli politics into a tailspin. One potential showdown was averted Sunday, however, when former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the last of the nation's founding generation, endorsed Olmert to replace Sharon as the Kadima candidate.
Speaking on CNN's ''Late Edition'' program, Peres, 82, ended speculation that he might return to the Labor Party that he abandoned to support Sharon, or that he would challenge Olmert for the leadership of Kadima.
One of Sharon's neurosurgeons, Dr. Jose Cohen, told reporters that while the prime minister's chances of survival were high, his ability to think and reason would be impaired.
''He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak,'' Cohen said in comments published Sunday by The Jerusalem Post.

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