Sharon almost weaned from respirator

Operation to allow long-term arrangement of feeding directly to stomach.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was hospitalized a month ago at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, is nearly weaned from his respirator and will soon be fed via a parenteral tube directly into his stomach rather than via a feeding tube threaded into his nose and down his esophagus. Prof. Charles Weissman, chief of anesthesiology who shares treatment of Sharon in the neurosurgery intensive care unit, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that the change in the means of feeding reduces the risk of infection, just as the tracheostomy performed a few weeks ago minimized infection by replacing the breathing tube down his mouth and trachea with a tube attached to a hole in the front of his neck. The feeding tube will be inserted via keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) and is not dangerous, said Weissman. Asked whether this operation - Sharon's third minor one after three major brain operations required by his massive hemorrhagic stroke on January 4 - mean he was not expected to awaken from his coma, he said: "There is no connection. It could take months before we know if he will regain consciousness." However, he did say that parenteral feeding is the choice for patients who are hospitalized long term. The prime minister, whose 78th birthday is to be marked this month, remains in serious but stable condition.