There was high drama on Israel’s electronic media early Thursday morning as announcements were broadcast that the state’s ninth president and former prime minister Shimon Peres had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
Peres, 92, had complained of chest pains and had difficulty in breathing.
It was quickly determined at Sheba Medical Center that the elder statesman had suffered a mild heart attack related to a blocked artery.
Peres underwent cardiac catheterization, and the artery was swiftly and successfully unblocked. Before 10 a.m., his office at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa had released a statement saying that “Peres was taken to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer with chest pains. He underwent angioplasty in his heart after a narrowed coronary artery was found.
“The artery was expanded during the procedure. He is feeling well.”
Peres’s son-in-law and personal physician, Prof. Rafi Walden, an eminent surgeon and deputy director of Sheba Medical Center, saw to it that the former president was brought to the hospital for tests after he said he felt unwell.
Peres Center director Efrat Duvdevani said later that Peres was fully conscious and somewhat annoyed by all the fuss being made about him.
A voracious reader, Peres had been devouring what he called a riveting book about Stalin’s daughter before he took ill, and shortly after undergoing the procedure, he asked for the volume to be brought to his hospital bed.
Peres was also hungry and asked to see the hospital’s menu. There was no fear that he would ask for something he was not supposed to eat. He is very health conscious and follows a strict nutritional diet.
On most previous occasions when he has been unwell, Peres has somehow managed recoveries to pursue his itineraries.
But this time he has been ordered to remain in hospital under observation until next week.
This upset him because it meant cancellation of his plans to visit the Soreq Nuclear Research Center on Thursday and the opening of the third Ladino Festival at the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv that evening.
The latter was of particular sentimental importance to Peres as a tribute to his close friend, the state’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who died in November.
Other plans Peres had for the immediate future were also canceled or deferred.
Messages of concern flowed to Israel from around the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Peres’s long time close aide Yona Bartal to ask about the statesman’s condition and was relieved to hear all was well. He sent his best wishes for a full recovery plus a big hug from his wife, Sara.
Netanyahu later spoke to Peres personally.
President Reuven Rivlin also contacted Peres. In typical manner, Peres did not wait for Rivlin to ask how he was feeling, but inquired about Rivlin’s health instead – and then they both laughed.
Rivlin told him that he had just an hour earlier wished Peres good health and a long life at a ceremony marking the appointments of 21 judges and court registrars.
Rivlin asked Peres to spend the next few days resting but admitted he knew that was a futile request to make of the workaholic leader.
Peres’s son Chemi voiced thanks for all the goodwill messages from around the world and said his father was in an excellent mood, that his heart is strong and beating and full of energy, but that for the moment the elder Peres has to get some rest.