Israeli Doctors Preparing to Bring Sharon Out of Coma

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 9, 2006

JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 -- Doctors plan to begin the delicate process of reviving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from a medically induced coma Monday and start assessing the scope of any brain damage he might have suffered during a massive stroke last week.

Sharon, 77, underwent a scheduled brain scan Sunday so doctors could measure intracranial pressure and look for new bleeding. The results showed the condition of his brain had improved slightly, a determination consistent with two previous scans taken since the last emergency surgery to stop hemorrhaging.

The director of Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital, where Sharon is being treated, said the most recent test showed that the level of swelling in Sharon's brain had declined overnight. His overall condition remains critical but stable.

"In light of all these factors, the panel of experts decided to start the process of taking him out of the sedation" Monday morning, said the director, Shlomo Mor-Yosef. "This all depends, of course, on whether the prime minister makes it until tomorrow without any significant incidents."

The announcement came as Sharon's cabinet convened for its first regular meeting since the prime minister was taken to the hospital Wednesday evening complaining of chest pain. He suffered what doctors described as a severe stroke, followed by extensive bleeding in the right half of his brain that took surgeons three rounds of emergency surgery to stanch.

His doctors said the left side of his brain, which controls speech and other important faculties in right-handed people such as Sharon, may not have suffered damage from the hemorrhage-induced swelling, as they had originally feared.

Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister who has temporarily assumed authority of the government, ran the cabinet meeting from his regular chair. Beside him was the larger seat usually occupied by his longtime political ally.

"Israeli democracy is strong and all institutions are functioning in a stable, serious and responsible manner," Olmert said. "This is how it should be and this is how it will continue."

Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor and longtime hawk, is a leading candidate to succeed Sharon as head of the Kadima party should the prime minister be unable to return to politics.

Many doctors and politicians say they believe that will be the case.

Olmert endorsed Sharon's evacuation of 8,500 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip last year, an operation that divided their hawkish Likud Party. He then joined Sharon in Kadima, the new centrist movement that the prime minister forged to push for a final settlement with the Palestinians, most likely on his terms.

With national elections set for March 28, decisions about Kadima's future have been largely frozen during Sharon's health crisis. The party, cobbled together mainly from defectors from Likud and the rival Labor Party, has not selected a candidate list for the elections.

Party unity appeared to receive a boost Sunday when Shimon Peres, the onetime Labor leader and former prime minister, ended his silence about whether he would continue with Kadima or return to his old party by telling Israel Radio that he supported Olmert.

Doctors said Sharon would be roused in carefully monitored phases. He has been kept unconscious to give his brain time to heal from the hemorrhaging and subsequent surgeries.

Doctors not directly involved in the case said his physicians would likely keep him awake just long enough to administer the first tests. Mor-Yosef said doctors would be looking for "some sort of response" after Sharon gains consciousness.

"If there is no response," he told reporters, "that would be bad news."

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