JERUSALEM — Seven years after a massive stroke removed him from office and left him in a vegetative state, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is able to process information and has exhibited "robust activity" in his brain, according to doctors who conducted recent tests.
Though some hoped Sharon might regain consciousness and resume his life, experts warned that was highly unlikely.
The medical team that tested him last week said Monday that the scans showed the 84-year-old Sharon responding to pictures of his family and recordings of his son's voice. They cautioned, however, it is not clear how much he understood, stressing the chances of his regaining full capacities are almost zero.
"We were surprised to see such robust activity in his brain," said Dr. Alon Friedman, head of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. "The information is getting in and is getting processed. He hears what they are saying. To what extent he understands, we cannot say for sure … but there are encouraging hints that he does."
Sharon was at the height of his political power in early 2006 when a devastating stroke incapacitated him. He has been in a deep coma ever since, connected to a respirator. His family has said he sometimes opens his eyes and moves his fingers, but little else has been disclosed about his condition. No one has suggested that his cognitive functions have returned.
Last week a team of Israeli and U.S. scientists performed a series of tests on him at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, using a newly developed functional MRI to assess his brain function.