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
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine