Doctors to start bringing Sharon out of induced coma
JERUSALEM – Ariel Sharon’s seat sat empty and his gavel lay untouched in the middle of the table as acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presided over the first weekly Cabinet meeting since Sharon suffered a massive stroke.With Sharon in the hospital in a medically induced coma and doctors predicting he will never be well enough to resume office, Olmert, the man seen as his potential heir, promised to carry on his political legacy.Doctors planned to start bringing Sharon out of his coma Monday to determine how much brain damage he suffered, hospital officials said Sunday. Experts said the process could take six to eight hours and doctors should have a good idea of the extent of the damage by the end of the day.Vital signs normalA new brain scan Sunday showed Sharon’s vital signs, including intracranial pressure, were normal, according to Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, where Sharon has undergone surgery twice since the stroke late Wednesday to stop bleeding in his brain.”His condition is still critical but stable, and there is improvement in the CT picture of the brain,” Mor-Yosef said.The 77-year-old Sharon, Israel’s most popular politician, was seen by many here as the best hope for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His grave illness, just three months before elections, stunned Israelis and left Middle East politics in limbo.Geula Cohen, an old friend of Sharon’s, visited him in the hospital Sunday and talked with his son Omri.”Omri came out to me and saw my face and got really angry at me. ‘What happened to you?’ (he said) and ‘Everything will be fine,”‘ she told Army Radio.Doctors have kept Sharon in a coma and on a respirator since Thursday to give him time to heal.Sharon’s medical team decided that on Monday morning they would start reducing the level of sedatives he is receiving to begin pulling him out of the coma.Doctors will pass their assessment of brain damage to Attorney General Meni Mazuz. “They will inform us the moment they wake him up from the sedation and they will know what systems were damaged and what his situation is,” said Justice Ministry spokesman Jacob GalantiIf doctors determine that Sharon is permanently incapacitated, the Cabinet would immediately meet to choose a new prime minister from the five Cabinet ministers from Sharon’s Kadima Party who are also lawmakers – a group that includes Olmert.A brain scan Sunday showed Sharon’s brain swelling had gone down, his intracranial and blood pressure were within normal range, and his cerebral spinal fluid was draining well, Mor-Yosef said.”In light of all these factors, the panel of experts decided to start the process of taking him out of the sedation tomorrow morning,” he said. “This all depends of course on whether the prime minister makes it until tomorrow morning without any significant incidents.”One of Sharon’s surgeons, Dr. Jose Cohen, said that while Sharon’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,” the Argentina-born Cohen said in comments published Sunday by The Jerusalem Post.Outside experts were even less optimistic.”We are basically hoping he survives and that he has some kind of ability to get some rehab so he can have some useful function again. But we are talking about the basics, we are talking very basic things,” said Dr. Keith Siller, medical director at the New York University Comprehensive Stroke Care Center. “The complexity of this man, and what he did for a living, this is not to even be considered now. This is absolutely unrealistic at this time.”First meetingIsrael’s Cabinet met for its weekly gathering Sunday for the first time since Sharon’s stroke.Olmert, who is considered Sharon’s political heir, told the ministers that Sharon would want everyone to get back to work on the country’s pressing security, social and economic issues.”This we will continue to do,” he said. “We will continue also to carry out the wishes of Sharon, to manage affairs as necessary.”The Cabinet meeting was Olmert’s first formal opportunity to persuade Israelis and the world that the nation’s affairs were in good hands and that he would work to carry out Sharon’s political program.Shimon Peres, the Labor Party elder statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who abandoned his party to join Sharon in Kadima, dispelled rumors that he might return to his former party or challenge Olmert. Addressing a gathering in Jerusalem on Sunday, he said he “fully and faithfully” supports Olmert. Later, in a CNN interview, he called on his backers to vote for Kadima.