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Sharon shows brain function after stroke

Prime minister in medically induced coma

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STROKE SYMPTOMS

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs

• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Source: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The director general of the hospital treating Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a massive stroke told reporters Thursday that doctors won't know how much damage he suffered until they can wake him from an induced coma.

Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef of Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital said the pupils of Sharon's eyes were responding to light, indicating "the brain is operating."

He said Sharon remains under anesthesia and is breathing with the aid of ventilator to reduce cranial pressure after two surgeries, that lasted a total of nine hours, to stop the bleeding in his brain. (Watch neurologist explains stroke risks -- 3:21)

Because Sharon is in an induced coma, said Mor-Yosef, "We can't carry out an exam on his cognitive functions at this point."

Asked what doctors had been able to determine about Sharon's condition, Mor-Yosef said, "We have said he suffered a significant stroke, severe internal hemorrhaging. ... We do not have any assessment at this point. We can only say, gradually we will wake him up."

He said it may be necessary to keep Sharon under sedation for as much as 72 hours.

Sharon was rushed to the hospital Wednesday, where doctors determined that he had suffered a type of stroke called a cerebral hemorrhage.

A cerebral hemorrhage happens when small blood vessels bleed in the brain and cause a blood clot. This causes pressure on the brain, eventually killing normal brain cells, which can cause permanent disability or death.

Doctors operated on Sharon for more than six hours, then returned him to the operating room for three more hours of surgery when a brain scan continued to show bleeding in his brain.

Mor-Yosef said that the surgeries were on the right side of his brain.

It was Sharon's second brain attack in less than three weeks. After the first, he was put on blood-thinning medications which may have contributed to the hemorrhage.

Having a previous stroke, having high blood pressure or smoking can increase a person's chances of having a stroke.

Sharon complained of chest pain and weakness before he was taken to the hospital, said Raanan Gissin, his senior adviser. He was conscious when he arrived at the hospital, Gissin said.

Sharon had suffered a smaller stroke caused by a blood clot on December 18. He never lost consciousness during that incident, according to Tamir Ben Hur, head of neurology at the hospital.

"There was no slurring. He was not confused. He suffered from a certain difficulty in speaking. A small blood clot briefly blocked a blood vessel in his brain," the doctor said of that earlier incident.

Ben Hur said the clot was dissolved by medication, adding, "Our comprehensive investigation has shown definitely that the stroke will not leave any damage or traces." (Full story)

It was during treatment for the first stroke that doctors discovered he had a small hole in his heart that could have led to the formation of the clot that may have caused the mild stroke.

The second massive stroke came hours before scheduled surgery to repair the hole in his heart.

Doctors had ordered the overweight prime minister to go on a diet. Sharon's doctors said earlier this week that he weighed 260 pounds (118 kilograms) at the time of the stroke, and had lost more than 6 pounds (3 kilograms) since then.

Sharon's doctors said then that his blood pressure and cholesterol levels were normal, though he has an underactive thyroid gland -- common in overweight people.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta contributed to this report.

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