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Israel's ex-leader shows progress

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Seven years since suffering a major stroke, comatose ex-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has surprised his doctors by displaying “a certain degree of consciousness,” an expert who examined him using an MRI scan said on Sunday.

The results of tests conducted by a joint Israeli-American team did not mean the former general and right-wing politician turned peacemaker was about to wake up from the coma he has been in since a January 2006 stroke.

But doctors saw the responses displayed by Sharon, 84, in a two-hour exam on Thursday as “encouraging” that there may some day be a cure for some comas, Alon Friedman, a neurological director at Israel's Soroka Medical Centre in Beersheba, said.

Experts at Soroka, joined by a leading U.S. neurologist, Martin Monti, of UCLA, scanned Sharon's brain to test its function, Friedman said.

“The chances of him getting out of bed are very, very slim,” Friedman said.

But the machine detected some brain activity, when Sharon was shown photographs of his family and when asked to imagine his home, he said. Sharon “might be awake, and there is a chance that he is conscious,” though due to paralysis suffered as a result of his stroke he cannot respond physically, he added.

“The patient is what we call ‘locked in,' he understands and responds with his brain but cannot activate any muscles.”

Friedman said Sharon's eyes were open for at least part of the time when he responded to the sight of family photographs.

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