PM has 'very good chance' of surviving

Chief neurosurgeon: He is a very stong man, and he is getting the best care.

The primary Hadassah University Medical Center neurosurgeon who has performed three operations on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Saturday that while he is still in serious condition, the chances that he will survive are "very high. He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care," said Dr. Jose Cohen. The 39-year-old, Argentinian-born Cohen, who moved to Israel only four years ago, said he had never met Sharon before he arrived at the Ein Kerem hospital. "If you give everything as a surgeon and realize that everything depends on you, you feel responsible. I have seen him respirated in an induced coma, but he is still the prime minister. He is a true fighter. I admire him more every day." As for how much of his cognitive and motor abilities would remain if Sharon survives, Cohen said it was impossible to predict, as each patient is different and the prognosis depends on what specific parts of the brain have been harmed and how much function can be recovered. Although HMO has formally barred interviews by the press with Cohen and with Prof. Felix Umansky, the Argentinian-born head of the neurosurgery department, they did answer questions from a couple of Spanish-speaking foreign correspondents. Cohen told Hanna Beres of the BBC's Spanish program on Saturday that "not all is lost" and that the prime minister "has all the chances to survive" even though he was in serious condition and in danger. Asked what his chances of normal functioning were, Cohen told Beres that it is impossible to know what permanent damage was done. "He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak." The fact that the damage was caused to his right hemisphere and not his left -- the seat of speech and memory in a right-handed person -- was encouraging, Cohen said. An interdisciplinary team of experts at Hadassah University Medical Center will on Sunday morning assess Sharon's condition, decide whether to perform another computerized tomography scan of his brain and when gradually to reduce the amount of drugs that have kept him in an induced coma. After three major operations within three days to halt repeated hemorrhaging and reduce intracranial pressure, Sharon was still fighting for his life and in serious condition on Saturday night, according to Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef. He said in a bulletin to reporters that the edema of his brain tissue had been reduced after five hours of surgery on Friday, that the bleeding had been halted and that his blood pressure and other vital signs were normal. Mor-Yosef reiterated that while the latest CT scan showed that although the left side of Sharon's brain -- his dominant hemisphere because he is right handed -- appeared not to be damaged by his hemorrhagic stroke on Wednesday night, there was no way to know how much damage was caused to the right side. He showed some optimism by noting a "small improvement in the radiological picture" since Friday. Hadassah neurosurgery staffers told The Jerusalem Post that they have had some patients, even elderly ones, in their department who suffered hemorrhagic strokes and underwent similar operations and, after long rehabilitation, were able to function well despite limitations. Cohen, 39, was born in Rosario, Argentina, and studied medicine there, receiving his medical degree in 1990. He studied the specialty of neurosurgery until 1996 and then went on to advanced interventional neuroradiology in Buenos Aires. Umansky, who met him at a neurosurgery conference in their native country, persuaded the single surgeon, who was active in Zionist circles, to come on aliya and join him at Hadassah. In 2002, Cohen set up the endovascular neurosurgery unit, which treats congenital defects and ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. Cohen's team has also conducted research on innovative stents, coils and other devices to prevent and treat strokes. Cohen, who has been spending almost all his time at the hospital since Sharon's second stroke, is still busy even when not operating on the prime minister. He has performed brain surgery and interventional procedures on several other patients since Thursday and was doing so on Saturday night as well. "I can't yet say that the prime minister is out of danger, but there are slight signs of an improvement. The field of neurosurgery works at a slower pace than trauma or other disciplines that journalists deal with," said Mor-Yosef, asking for patience. Hinting at criticism among some doctors that Hadassah's anticoagulant treatment for his initial mild ischemic stroke on December 18 might have triggered the hemorrhagic stroke, Mor-Yosef said he had received calls of support from senior physicians at Sheba, Ichilov, Soroka, Poriya, Barzilai, Bikur Holim and Shaare Zedek Medical Centers and Dr. Yoram Blachar, chairman of the Israel Medical Association, for his staff's efforts to save the prime minister, who remains continuously attached to a respirator and in an induced coma in his bed on the seventh-floor neurosurgery intensive care unit.