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Sharon remains in coma

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Doctors said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remained in critical condition in a medically induced coma yesterday as fresh tests showed that swelling in his brain had eased slightly after a major stroke three days earlier.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Hadassah University Medical Center, said during an evening briefing that specialists from the hospital in various medical fields would gather today to assess the next course of action.

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Sharon's life remained in danger after the severe bleeding caused by the hemorrhagic stroke. One matter to be decided is when doctors will begin trying to awaken the prime minister from the coma by gradually reducing the dosage of anesthetics. Only then can they get a clear idea of the extent of brain damage that Sharon, 77, has suffered as a result of the stroke, his second in a month's time.

Assessing the extent of damage, and to what degree Sharon will be able to function, "is indeed the question we would all like answered," Mor-Yosef said during a briefing that was somewhat more detailed than previous ones.

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Sharon underwent a new CT scan early yesterday to detect swelling or renewed bleeding after the cerebral hemorrhage and three operations since Wednesday night.

Mor-Yosef said the scan showed a "slight improvement" in swelling, adding that the left side of the brain appeared to have been spared the damage caused to the right side. The left side is where speech functions are centered.

Mor-Yosef said various vital signs - intracranial pressure, blood pressure and pulse rate - were within what he deemed "normal limits." But he cautioned that Sharon's condition remained grave.

"It's still critical and stable," he said in English. During the portion of the briefing conducted in Hebrew, Mor-Yosef used the word kasheh, or serious, as he has previously.

He said that after today's meeting among medical specialists, "We will decide about management for the next 24 hours."

The briefing was the hospital's first since Friday, when Sharon was rushed into surgery for a third time to stanch new bleeding.

He had been scheduled for surgery at Hadassah the following day to repair a small hole in his heart that is thought to have contributed to a minor stroke Dec. 18.

Doctors said the earlier stroke had caused no lasting damage. He was sent home two days later and was taking blood-thinning medications, which made it more difficult for doctors to stop hemorrhaging during the new episode.

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Doctors have described the most recent damage as extensive, and the reports have left little hope that Sharon would ever return to office if he survives. His deputy, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has filled in as prime minister since Wednesday.

Olmert joined Sharon in bolting from the conservative Likud Party two months ago to form a centrist movement that supports steps to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

Olmert is considered the person most likely to lead the new party, Kadima, in national elections scheduled to take place in March. But it is not clear whether Olmert or anyone else in Kadima can muster the same support that it had commanded under Sharon. Polls have shown the party with large leads over the left-leaning Labor Party and Likud.

A pair of surveys taken since Sharon's latest stroke indicated the party would suffer only a minor dip in support under Olmert, but those findings might be unreliable because public sympathy for the prime minister remains high.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.


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