Sharon in serious condition after stroke

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was returned to the operating room today after a brain scan revealed he required more treatment following “massive, widespread” bleeding in his brain. Doctors said he was in a serious condition.

Sharon fell ill at his ranch yesterday evening and was rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Doctors began emergency surgery about midnight that lasted throughout the night. Doctors said this morning that the operation would last several more hours.

Surgery apparently had been complicated by blood-thinners he had been given following a mild stroke on December 18, and the medication may also have contributed to yesterday’s stroke.

Mor-Yosef said that after several hours of surgery, the bleeding had stopped but that Sharon was returned to the operating theatre. “We are continuing with the same operation, and there are more areas that need to be treated,” Mor-Yosef said, without elaborating.

Mor-Yosef did not address Sharon’s prognosis, but neurosurgeons not involved in Sharon’s treatment said a full recovery was not likely following such a massive stroke. They said it usually takes at least a day after the surgery to determine the extent of any damage.

Powers were transferred to his deputy, Ehud Olmert, who was to convene the cabinet at 9am for a special session.

An ambulance brought Sharon to the Jerusalem hospital only hours before the hard-charging, overweight, 77-year-old Israeli leader had been scheduled to undergo a procedure to seal a hole in his heart that contributed to a mild stroke on December 18.

Sharon’s cerebral haemorrhage, or bleeding stroke, came at a time of upheaval among Palestinian factions in Gaza and in the midst of both Israeli and Palestinian election campaigns.

Sharon’s absence would slow momentum toward peacemaking with the Palestinians and leave a major vacuum at the head of his new Kadima party, which was expected to head a government after the March 28 vote.

In a written statement, President Bush praised Sharon as ”a man of courage and peace”, saying he and first lady Laura Bush “share the concerns of the Israeli people … and we are praying for his recovery”.

Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger called on Israelis to read psalms and pray for Sharon. “We are very, very worried,” he said, and prayed for “mercy from Heaven”.

Speaking to reporters outside the hospital, Sharon aide Raanan Gissin warned Israel’s enemies: “To anyone who entertains any notion to try and exploit this situation … the security forces and IDF (Israeli military) are ready for any kind of challenge,” he said.

Sharon’s personal physician said early today that he expects Sharon to emerge from surgery “safely”.

“The prime minister is currently in surgery. It is proceeding properly,” said Dr Shlomo Segev. “We need to wait patiently. I expect him to emerge from it safely.”

But Channel 2 TV said the prime minister was suffering from paralysis in his lower body, and medical experts who have not examined Sharon said chances are slim for a complete recovery.

“It’s among the most dangerous of all types of strokes” with half of victims dying within a month, said Dr Robert Felberg, a neurologist at Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans.

“The fact that he’s on a respirator means it’s extremely serious,” said Dr Philip Steig, chair of neurosurgery at Weill-Cornell Medical Centre in New York.

Dr Larry Goldstein, director of Duke University’s stroke program, said much depends on the extent, location and duration of the bleeding.

“Bleeding in some areas of the brain, if it’s caught early enough, you can actually have not a bad outcome,” he said.

Sharon was put in an ambulance at his ranch in the Negev Desert after complaining about feeling unwell. The stroke happened during the hour-long drive to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Dr Shmuel Shapira of the hospital told Channel 10 TV.

Doctors checking Sharon late last month said he weighed 118 kilogrammes at the time of the first stroke but had since lost more than two and a half kilogrammes and was otherwise in good health.

Sharon is about 5'7".

The prime minister had been taking blood-thinners since the first stroke to prevent another clot, but such drugs also raise the risk of cerebral haemorrhages, which account for only about 10% of strokes.

Other possible causes are ruptured blood vessels, an aneurysm (a bulge in a vessel wall that bursts) or even chronic high blood pressure.

Blood-thinners may not have caused the latest stroke but could have made the bleeding worse and may account for its severity, Steig said.

Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon said Sharon’s authority was transferred to Olmert because the prime minister was under general anaesthesia. Olmert was to lead a special cabinet session today.

Under Israeli law, he will serve as acting prime minister until Sharon can resume his powers.


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