Ariel Sharon's life is in danger

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's life was in danger and he was being prepared for emergency surgery Saturday after an abdominal scan revealed severe damage to the digestive tract. Sharon, 77, suffered a devastating stroke Jan. 4 and has been in a coma since then. Earlier this month, a feeding tube was inserted, suggesting doctors were preparing him for long-term care.

An abdominal scan Saturday revealed problems with the blood flow to his intestines and that his digestive tract had suffered damage, said Yael Bossem-Levy, spokeswoman for the Hadassah Ein-Kerem Hospital.

After the scan, it was decided to operate on Sharon immediately, Bossem-Levy said in a statement. At 11 a.m. (0900 gmt) Saturday, the spokeswoman said the operation would begin within minutes, and that it would last between three and six hours.

"Sharon's life is in danger," Bossem-Levy told The Associated Press in a phone call after the statement was issued. His condition is now "very serious, or critical," she said. Sharon's son Omri rushed to the hospital Saturday morning, and other family members were on their way.

Sharon had been stable for the past five weeks, but his condition worsened before dawn Saturday, the hospital said. He has undergone brain scans from time to time to check whether there was swelling and bleeding. The brain scans had not shown changes, but Sharon has failed to regain consciousness.

Sharon suffered the massive stroke a day before he was to check into Hadassah for what was described as a minor heart procedure. The major stroke came two weeks after he had suffered a mild stroke.

Doctors have come under fire from critics who questioned whether Sharon should have been treated with massive doses of anticoagulants after his first stroke, which was caused by a small blood clot in a cranial artery. Doctors admitted that the anticoagulants made it more difficult for them to stop the bleeding from the later hemorrhagic stroke.

The extensive bleeding and the lengthy operations Sharon underwent to stop it have led experts to conclude that he must have suffered severe brain damage and was unlikely to regain consciousness. If he does awaken, most say, the chances of his regaining meaningful cognition or activity are slim.

Sharon's stroke jolted Israel, which is gearing up for an election on March 28. The centrist Kadima Party that Sharon formed has a strong lead in the polls, which has not changed since his stroke. Sharon left the Likud Party to gain a free hand in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Sharon had fought Likud hardliners to carry out the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which was completed in September. With the pullout, Sharon shifted to the center of the Israeli political spectrum, winning the support of many doves and ostracizing many hawks who believed that the architect of Israel's settlement project had betrayed them. The decision has proven to be hugely popular, winning Kadima at least 40 out of 120 seats in the parliament in polls, reports the AP.

N.U.

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