Ariel Sharon's medical team push forward with efforts to bring him out of coma

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's medical team pushed forward with efforts to bring him out of an induced coma Tuesday, a day after reporting slight progress in the Israeli leader's recovery from a debilitating stroke. Meanwhile, an Israeli newspaper raised new questions about whether doctors' errors might have contributed to last Wednesday's stroke.

The Haaretz daily said Sharon was suffering from a brain disease, called cerebral amyloid angiopathy, that, in combination with blood thinners he was taking, could have increased his risk for stroke, the newspaper said.

If doctors had known about the condition, they would not have prescribed the blood thinners, the paper said, quoting an unidentified member of Sharon's medical team. However, the report said the condition sometimes can be diagnosed only after a brain hemorrhage.

Sharon was given the blood thinners after suffering a mild stroke on Dec. 18, but the brain condition was discovered only after the second stroke, Haaretz said. Hadassah Hospital spokeswoman Yael Bossem Levy declined to comment on the report. "We are busy treating the prime minister and fighting for his life and nothing else," she said.

Hospital officials said Sharon's condition did not change overnight, and he remained in critical but stable condition Tuesday morning. He was still unconscious. Doctors planned to continue reducing Sharon's level of sedation Tuesday, in a gradual process aimed at bringing him out of an induced coma. Hospital officials planned an announcement at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT).

He was placed in the coma after last week's stroke to give him time to heal from two rounds of brain surgery.

Sharon started breathing on his own Monday, though he remained hooked up to a respirator as a backup, and moved his right arm and leg in response to pain stimulation. Sharon's response is a "very important" sign and indicated his brain stem is working, said his chief surgeon, Dr. Felix Umansky. It is still too early, however, to assess what impact the massive bleeding he suffered in his right brain would have on his abilities to think and reason or on the left side of his body, Umansky said.

"We are just at the beginning of a very long way," the surgeon said. A final medical analysis on Sharon's long-term prognosis would end days of uncertainty over the fate of the 77-year-old prime minister, heralded by many as the best hope for Mideast peace. Doctors said his chances of survival are better, but he is far from out of danger.

Before the stroke, Sharon had been expected to handily win re-election in March 28 parliamentary balloting, then use his third term to try to draw Israel's final borders by pulling out of large parts of the West Bank and completing a separation barrier with the Palestinians.

More clarity on Sharon's condition might enable his new, centrist Kadima Party to select a successor and start campaigning. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Sharon's ally and a proponent of unilateral withdrawals from more Palestinian-claimed lands, is seen as the most likely heir.

Sharon has not yet opened his eyes. His doctors hope he will resume consciousness when the sedative levels are lowered further, though outside experts cautioned there was no assurance he would wake up at all, reports the AP. I.L.

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