Ariel Sharon to have hole in heart

Doctors next month will seal a small hole in Ariel Sharon's heart that they said yesterday led to his recent mild stroke, an announcement that drew further attention to the prime minister's health as he campaigns for a third term.The procedure to seal the hole will almost eliminate the risk of a stroke similar to the one Sharon suffered on Dec. 18, said Dr. Haim Lotem, head of cardiology at Hadassah Hospital. Doctors said the hole, measuring less than an eighth of an inch, is a birth defect found in 15 to 20 percent of the population and often goes undiscovered.

The 77-year-old Sharon, who is 5-foot-7 and weighs 255 pounds, is surprisingly fit, considering his girth and age, Lotem said.But the small hole in the partition between the upper chambers of Sharon's heart apparently led to the blood clot that caused his stroke.

''A blood clot can find its way through such a hole through the heart in the direction of the brain and cause an event like the one the prime minister had," said Dr. Dan Elian, an Israeli cardiologist.The procedure has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, though it has been successfully performed on thousands of people of all ages worldwide.

Using a catheter inserted through a blood vessel, doctors will put an umbrella-like device over the hole to seal it, Lotem said.The doctors did not give a date for the surgery, but it will be well before the March 28 election, reports the AP. I.L.

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