Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opened his eyes yesterday for the first time since suffering a massive stroke on Jan. 4, but hospital officials said the reports were generated by the Sharon family's "impression of eyelid movement, whose medical significance is unclear."
The Web site of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that Sharon opened his eyes twice yesterday. On one occasion, after a recording of a grandson's voice was played, the prime minister's eyes teared, he blinked, and then quickly opened his eyes, the site said. But they closed before doctors reached his room, the site added.
Dr Anthony Rudd, a stroke specialist at St. Thomas' Hospital in London, said eye movement -- including eye opening -- is "not a dramatic breakthrough."
"A coma is not an absolute all-or-nothing state. There are various stages," Rudd said.
Sharon underwent a successful tracheotomy on Sunday evening to help wean him off a respirator that has been helping him breathe hospital officials said, but Sharon's failure to regain consciousness was drawing increasing concern.
The surgery took less than an hour and followed a CT scan that showed no changes in his brain. Though Sharon was taken off sedatives on Saturday, he had not regained consciousness more than a day later. The hospital continued to describe his condition as critical but stable.
His stand-in, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, will remain in his post until Israel's election on March 28, according to a ruling on Sunday by Attorney-General Meni Mazuz. He sidestepped a ruling that Sharon would be permanently incapacitated, requiring the Cabinet to name a replacement.
Sharon had to undergo the tracheotomy procedure to insert a plastic tube in his windpipe because the former tube to a respirator would have started to cause damage if it remained in place, said Doctor Philip Stieg, chair of neurosurgery at the Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York.
Sharon's comatose state and the fact that he was undergoing the tracheotomy do not bode well for the prime minister's future, Stieg said. It is becoming more probable as time passes that Sharon will either remain in a vegetative state or have low cognitive abilities, he said.
``It suggests that the brain damage is as serious as we thought it was based on earlier reports and now its all playing out,'' Stieg said.
``He's not turning the corner, he's not waking up ... they're having to do more things to keep him alive,'' Steig added.