Ariel Sharon dead: How Israel's 'sleeping giant' was kept in a coma for eight years

From being struck down by the stroke in January 2006 to his eventual death, the iconic leader refused to go quickly. Jeremy Laurance on Ariel Sharon's medical journey

When Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January of 2006, the immediate prognosis was bleak. Doctors operated for seven hours to try to ease the pressure from the haemorrhage in his brain, itself an indication of the severity of the injury.

Yet few were prepared to write him off. The iconic leader, the workaholic, the man possessed of bull-like strength – if anyone could come back from such a devastating attack, he would. He had seven further operations over the next few months, including the removal of a third of his large intestine after complications set in.

Read more:
Ariel Sharon dies aged 85
Obituary: Unlike his right-wing predecessors, he was ‘a pragmatist who could make concessions without feeling that he was committing sacrilege’
Ariel Sharon: A life in pictures
Ariel Sharon: A timeline of his life

It was not until the following April that ministers in the Israeli government voted unanimously to declare Sharon “permanently incapacitated” and his successor, Ehud Olmert, was promoted from acting PM to Prime Minister.

By then, it was clear there was going to be no comeback – not even for Ariel Sharon. Recovery after a stroke is notoriously unpredictable and few neurologists were prepared to dismiss the possibility at the time he was struck down.

The outcome depends on the part of the brain affected, how extensive the damage is and whether the part is permanently or only temporarily affected. Every neurologist can recount tales of incredible recoveries against the odds. Equally, they can describe people who suffered relatively slight damage at the time but who then failed to progress.

After spending months in hospital in Jerusalem, Sharon was transferred to the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv where he remained in a “serious but stable condition” until his death.

It is remarkable he survived so long. While young victims of road accidents or other trauma can lie in a vegetative state for years after a devastating brain injury, elderly stroke sufferers normally succumb relatively quickly to an infection, blood clot or heart attack.

He was cared for in a private room on the second floor, with an armed guard outside his door. He was kept alive with a feeding tube and received regular physiotherapy, as pressure sores, blood clots and pneumonia pose the biggest threat to comatose patients.

Earlier this month it was reported that Sharon was suffering from kidney failure, affecting other major organs. This may have followed a urinary tract infection, common in elderly people who have to rely on a catheter to drain the bladder. If that is so, it is again remarkable that it did not happen sooner. That may be a tribute to the diligence of his carers.

Although the “sleeping giant”, as he was known, remained confined to his bed for the past eight years he continued to open his eyes and each day was propped up to “watch” television. Whether he could see or hear it, no one knew. However, a year ago he was taken for an MRI scan at Ben Gurion University where he was given a series of tests to determine his response to external stimuli, including pictures of his family and a recording of his son’s voice.  

Neuroscientists led by Professor Martin Monti, of the University of California, claimed the results showed “significant brain activity” in response to the stimuli, but was unable to say if Sharon was “consciously perceiving the information”. Whether the former Israeli prime minister was following the tortuous developments in the politics of the Middle East from his hospital bed we will never know.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £22000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Recruitment Resour...

Account Manager (Junior)

Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

Javascript Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried