sharon walking 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
More than 100 of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's friends, advisers and extended family members came to Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem on Sunday to solemnly mark his 78th birthday of the comatose premier whose condition remained serious, but stable.
The occasion was also marked in the weekly cabinet meeting, where Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who sat next to the prime minister's empty chair, opened the session by mentioning Sharon's birthday and saying the cabinet joined everyone in praying for him.
Despite the request of Sharon's sons Omri and Gilad that no special event be held in their father's honor, the waiting room next to his hospital room became a pilgrimage site where well-wishers gathered to pay him homage.
"We told stories from the past about the prime minister's life, and we talked about how much we wish he could have enjoyed the stories with us," said Sharon's political adviser, Erez Halfon.
Sharon's longtime spokesman Ra'anan Gissin told the press at the hospital about how Sharon never liked celebrating his birthday and that he would protest when his advisers would celebrate against his will.
"People went to the hospital to touch base with the man and to sustain the hope that he will wake up," Gissin said. "The key is to never lose hope. Maybe this 78th birthday is a good opportunity to get up and see what's happening and take the necessary steps that we're all wishing for him to take."
But not all of Sharon's friends felt the need to go to the hospital. Uri Dan, who has been Sharon's friend for 52 years, said he marked his friend's birthday by calling Gilad and relaying his wish that next year Sharon would celebrate his birthday at home, with his friends.
Dan said he was optimistic Sharon would pull through, adding that in difficult times Sharon always used to tell him it was forbidden to lose optimism. A veritable walking chronicle of Sharon's life and times, Dan said February had always been a month of ups and downs for Sharon.
The month's "ups," in addition to his birthday, were Operation Black Arrow on February 28, 1955, in which a commando unit led by Sharon killed 42 Egyptian soldiers in a retaliation raid in the Gaza Strip, and his electoral victory against Ehud Barak on February 6, 2001.
The low point, Dan said, was on February 14, 1983, when he was forced to step down as defense minister following the Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the Sabra and Shatilla massacre.
"I pray for him everyday," Dan said. "I certainly still have hope, he has now fought for his life for more than 50 days."
Sharon's his condition remained serious and stable, and that there were no immediate plans to move him from the general intensive care unit on the first floor back to the seventh floor neurosurgery intensive care unit, the Hadassah Medical Organization spokeswoman said. Sharon was moved for surgery a few weeks ago to remove a third of his colon, which had developed necrosis.
Sharon's hospitalization since January 4 has not caused the general public to change health habits, even though his stroke was largely preventible, according to a new independent survey.
The representative sample of 503 Hebrew-speaking adults found that only 12 percent said they had changed something in their lifestyles as a result of Sharon's illness; while 88% said they had not changed the way they lived or their health habits because of the tragedy.
The survey was conducted by the C.A. Marketing Information Institute, headed by Noam Raz and Merav Shapira, with a 4.5% margin of error, and was aimed at seeing whether Sharon's catastrophic hemorrhagic stroke and the heavy publicity of every detail had moved individuals to adopt more healthful lifestyles.
Those who declared that they had changed as a result of what happened to Sharon, said their interest in health subjects in general had increased (7%); they had changed their dietary habits (5%); they had gone for medical screening tests or made an appointment for them (3%); or started exercising (3%). Some answered positively to more than one.
People older than 50 were more likely to have changed their habits than younger people.