JERUSALEM (AP) – Ariel Sharon’s doctors on Wednesday hoped to remove the prime minister from all remaining sedatives after he moved his left hand for the first time, but hospital officials cautioned against being overly optimistic about his chances for recovery from a massive stroke.
Although doctors said Sharon, 77, was no longer in immediate danger, they said it would be days before they could determine the full extent of the damage he suffered from a brain hemorrhage.
“I think compared with recent days … there are significant changes in the prime minister’s condition, but we still have a long way to go, and we have to be patient,” Dr. Yoram Weiss, one of Sharon’s anesthesiologists, said Tuesday.
Dr. Yair Birenboim, the director of Hadassah’s Ein Kerem Hospital where Sharon is hospitalized, said it was too early to express optimism. “We are pleased that there are small phases of development in the prime minister’s condition,” he told Army Radio on Wednesday.
Doctors began weaning Sharon off sedatives this week to ease him from an induced coma. Sharon was halfway through the sedative-removing treatment Wednesday, Birenboim said, but emphasized it could be reversed at any point.
“You can stop them for a few hours, get an idea of what is happening and of course immediately retransmit them,” Birenboim said. “These are routine things that happen with patients.”
Ending the sedation is a key step toward determining the extent of the damage Sharon suffered. He underwent three brain surgeries to halt bleeding in his right brain after the Jan. 4 stroke.
Israel Radio said it would take 36 hours for the drugs to exit Sharon’s system. Hadassah Hospital spokesman Ron Krumer said if the treatment plan continues on schedule, Sharon will be without sedatives by days-end, but added that it was not possible to give a precise timetable of when the drugs would be cleaned out of his body.
Doctors began decreasing the sedatives Monday, and Sharon started breathing on his own and moved his right arm and leg slightly in response to pain stimulation.
On Tuesday, he increased his movement on the right side and also moved his left arm in response to stimulation, said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the hospital’s director.
Movement on Sharon’s left side could be significant because that part of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain, where Sharon’s stroke occurred.
Sharon remained in critical but stable condition and had a decent chance of surviving, Weiss said.
“More metaphorically speaking, we have backed off five yards from the edge of the cliff,” he said. Once the sedatives wear off, doctors can make a final assessment of brain damage. Then a determination would have to be made about whether Sharon can one day return to his post or a replacement must be named.
Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to check on Sharon and renew the Bush administration’s support for establishment of a Palestinian state, Olmert’s office said.
Since Sharon’s stroke, Olmert has worked hard to portray an aura of stability. His first major test is resolving a dispute over whether to allow Palestinians to vote in the contested city of Jerusalem during Jan. 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections. The dispute has threatened to derail the balloting.
Olmert’s office said the Cabinet will vote during its weekly meeting Sunday on whether to let Arab residents of Jerusalem cast absentee ballots in post offices, a compromise used in previous elections, provided no candidates from the militant Hamas group were on the ballot. The vote is expected to pass.
Israel refuses to allow regular elections in Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital, out of fears it would weaken its claim to the city.
Israel is also gearing up for elections on March 28. Two new polls showed that Sharon’s Kadima party remains the clear front-runner, despite the likely absence of its founder.
A poll for Channel 10 TV and the Haaretz daily projected that Kadima, with Olmert as candidate for prime minister, would win 44 of 120 seats, putting it into a strong position to form a coalition government. A poll conducted after Sharon’s stroke last week showed Kadima winning 40 seats.
The poll forecast the dovish Labor taking 16 seats and the hard-line Likud Party winning 13 seats. Pollsters questioned 640 voters but did not give a margin of error.
Sharon suffered an initial, minor stroke Dec. 18, which doctors said was caused when a blood clot escaped through a small hole in his heart. Doctors prescribed Sharon blood thinners ahead of a planned procedure to close the hole.
Outside experts said the blood thinners could have worsened Sharon’s brain hemorrhage. Doctors discovered after Sharon’s initial stroke that he suffered from cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a disease that can cause brain bleeding, particularly in the elderly, Mor-Yosef said Tuesday. The revelation raised questions about doctors’ decision to prescribe blood thinners.
Birenboim defended the treatment in Wednesday’s radio interview. The blood thinners were prescribed based on a “consensus of experts,” Birenboim said, saying the group carefully weighed the pros and cons of how to treat the prime minister after his first stroke.
“Everyone can be intelligent in hindsight … but what if we had not given the prime minister the blood-thinning medication and he had suffered another clot? What would have been said then?” Birenboim asked. “This is part of the art of medicine,” he said. “We have to consider things from here and there and decrease the damage as much as possible.”