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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
house + home
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Life and Style
Bats detect and react to wind speed and direction through sensors on their wings
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
  • Get to the point
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 Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living