| Israeli teacher Luli Sarig with paper flowers and drawings made by schoolchildren for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Hadassah hospital, Jerusalem, on Monday (Reuters)
Jerusalem, Jan. 9 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began breathing on his own and moved slightly in his hospital bed today as doctors started bringing him out of an induced coma to assess brain damage from a massive stroke.
Hadassah hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef said that while Sharon’s responses had been “increasingly significant” as his medical team gradually reduced his level of sedation, he remained in critical condition.
“We cannot say he is out of danger,” chief surgeon Felix Umansky said, adding that Sharon had not yet opened his eyes or regained consciousness five days after the stroke.
However, for Israelis keeping anxious vigil for the 77-year-old leader many had seen as their best hope for resolving their conflict with the Palestinians, today’s hospital bulletins brought news of improvement in his condition.
“He is still connected to respirators that help him but the Prime Minister is breathing spontaneously,” Mor-Yosef said. “This is the first sign of some sort of activity in his brain.” He later said Sharon had responded to pain stimuli by slightly moving his right arm and right leg.
The process of weaning Sharon off sedation, expected to take days, is critical for gauging the extent his faculties have been impaired and his chances for survival. But outside experts say there is no guarantee he will awaken from anaesthesia.
Only an hour after doctors began reducing the level of drugs that had been used to keep Sharon in a coma since his stroke, they reported he was taking his first breaths. Two children showed up at the hospital gates with their uncle and put up a sign saying: “Ariel Sharon, please wake up.”
Sharon’s surgeons say there is a good chance he will live. But medical consensus is he has suffered too much damage to ever return to politics, an arena he has dominated in recent years like no figure since founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
Sharon had been kept under sedation for five days to aid healing after emergency surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. Neurosurgeons will be now be looking for response to stimuli, including whether he moves his fingers or opens his eyes.
“The best news would be if Sharon wakes up, (a doctor) tells him ‘squeeze my hand’, and he does,” Tel Aviv anaesthetist Azriel Perl, who was not involved in treating the Prime Minister, told the NRG site.
However, if doctors declare Sharon permanently incapacitated, they will pass on their finding to Israel’s attorney general.