Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sharon likely off respirator by week's end: aide

Fri Jan 20, 8:20 AM ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon will likely be taken off respirators soon although there are no signs of emergence from his more than two-week-old coma, a senior aide said on Friday.

Sharon, 77, suffered a massive stroke on January 4 in a health crisis that cast a shadow on Middle East peacemaking prospects and an Israeli general election on March 28.

Doctors initially used sedatives to induce a coma after performing multiple brain surgeries on Sharon immediately after the stroke. The prime minister was taken off all sedatives last Saturday but remains incapacitated, raising concern he suffered more severe brain damage.

"They're going to remove all the respiratory systems," Sharon aide Raanan Gissin told Reuters. "He's going to be able to breathe alone at the end of the weekend."

Gissin, who said he was relaying information received from Sharon's doctors, added later than any decision to remove Sharon from the respirator would be made by the medical team treating him.

"That's what the doctors were considering," he said. "But when and how, that only the doctors can decide."

Sharon has been breathing independently but the respirator was used as a back-up, Gissin said.

Sharon underwent a tracheotomy earlier this week that created an incision in his windpipe to help wean him off respiratory machines.

Relatives said he briefly opened his eyes on Monday, but medical experts noted that such eyelid movements were common among comatose patients and could not be viewed as a reawakening without additional signs of communication.

Sharon is not expected to return to office and his deputy, Ehud Olmert, was named interim prime minister. Olmert is slated to lead Sharon's newly formed Kadima party at the ballot and opinion polls put him ahead of rivals from the right-wing Likud and center-left Labor parties.

Sharon is being treated at Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, where a spokeswoman could not confirm that the leader would be taken off a respirator. She said the prime minister remained in a critical but stable condition.

Gissin said he knew of no new signs that Sharon was emerging from the coma since he opened his eyes.

"Now it's the question of getting out of the coma," he said. "It's something that could happen overnight. It can happen after a few weeks. Nobody knows."


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