Ariel Sharon: Still Alive, but Only Just

Former Israeli prime minister has not been publicly seen since his 2006 stroke.

ByABC News
October 27, 2008, 9:09 AM

JERUSALEM, Oct. 27, 2008 — -- Ariel Sharon is still alive, but only just.

The man whose inspired military leadership and controversial policies earned him the nickname "the Bulldozer" today lies silent and motionless in the Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv.

"His predicament is like a Greek tragedy," said Dr. Raanan Gissen, his longtime spokesman and friend, in an interview with ABC News. "He is between life and death. He is neither here nor there."

On Jan. 4, 2006, the prime minister suffered a massive stroke. He has not been seen in public since.

On the night of Sharon's stroke, an Israeli television crew snatched fleeting pictures of him in the back of an ambulance, still conscious and still sitting upright. It is the last image of Sharon most have.

His condition was stabilized after several life-saving surgeries and in May 2006 Sharon was transferred to a unit for the long-term treatment of stroke patients. He has been there since. He turned 80 this year.

"People don't like to think about it, it's just too painful," Gissen said. "He was a real leader. People were prepared to follow him. He made mistakes but he always got back up and carried on. People appreciated that."

Bodyguards are still on duty outside of Sharon's hospital room 24 hours a day.

According to Gissen, Sharon's room is fully sterilized to avoid infection. Gissen says that he is not reliant on a ventilator, but that sometimes at night an oxygen mask is placed across his face to help him breathe. He is fed intravenously and only a handful of people are allowed to visit him.

"His two sons visit every day sometimes with their families," said Gissen. "They play music to him and talk to him, but there is no cognitive response. His body is strong however. His father lived well into his 90s."

According to Israeli media reports, however, Sharon's youngest son, Gilad, is convinced he can communicate with his father. Doctors treating Sharon admit there is slight movement in his hand and eyes apparently in response to a familiar voice or music.