JERUSALEM - Ariel Sharon underwent emergency surgery Saturday after an abdominal scan revealed severe damage to his digestive tract, and hospital officials said his life was in danger. Sharon, 77, suffered a severe stroke Jan. 4 and has been in a coma since then. Earlier this month, a feeding tube was inserted, suggesting doctors were preparing him for long-term care.
An abdominal scan Saturday revealed problems with the blood flow to his intestines and that his digestive tract had suffered severe damage, said Yael Bossem-Levy, spokeswoman for the Hadassah Ein-Kerem Hospital.
After the scan, it was decided to operate on Sharon immediately, Bossem-Levy said in a statement. The operation began at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday and was to last between three and six hours, she said.
"Sharon's life is in danger," Bossem-Levy told The Associated Press in a phone call after the statement was issued. His condition is now "very serious, or critical," she said.
Sharon's son Omri rushed to the hospital Saturday morning, and other family members were on their way.
Sharon had been stable for the past five weeks, but his condition worsened before dawn Saturday, the hospital said.
He has undergone brain scans from time to time to check whether there was swelling and bleeding. The brain scans have shown no changes.
Sharon suffered the stroke a day before he was to check into Hadassah for what was described as a minor heart procedure. The major stroke came two weeks after he had suffered a mild stroke.
Some have questioned whether doctors should have treated Sharon with massive doses of anticoagulants after his first stroke, which was caused by a small blood clot in a cranial artery. Doctors admitted that the anticoagulants made it more difficult for them to stop the bleeding from the later stroke.
The extensive bleeding and the lengthy operations Sharon underwent to stop it have led experts to conclude that he must have suffered severe brain damage and was unlikely to regain consciousness. If he does awaken, most say, the chances of his regaining meaningful cognition or activity are slim.
Sharon's stroke jolted Israel, which is gearing up for an election on March 28. The centrist Kadima Party that Sharon formed has a strong lead in the polls, which has not changed since his stroke. Sharon left the Likud Party to gain a free hand in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sharon had fought Likud hardliners to carry out the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which was completed in September.
With the pullout, Sharon shifted to the center of the Israeli political spectrum, winning the support of many doves and ostracizing many hawks who believed that the architect of Israel's settlement project had betrayed them. The decision has proven to be hugely popular, winning Kadima at least 40 out of 120 seats in the parliament in polls.
A war hero, Sharon had for years opposed concessions to the Palestinians. He came to accept the idea of giving land to the Palestinians and allowing them to form a state only during his most recent term as prime minister, which began in 2001.