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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

NOVEMBER 5, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 44

Is He Strong Enough?
Wahid's health raises concerns
By DEWI LOVEARD Jakarta

As President Abdurrahman Wahid got up to make his first speech in parliament, peering through thick glasses, two aides grasping his arms to help him to the podium, many no doubt wondered - this man may have the wiles to run Indonesia, but does he have the physical strength?

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The 59-year-old Wahid's major health problems date back to a stroke he suffered in January 1998. Cranial bleeding forced emergency brain surgery and he remained in a coma for a month. The stroke also left him virtually blind. Two operations have helped his right eye slightly - he can see shapes and some colors - and a third operation is pending, but his left eye is beyond hope. A second stroke in October last year did not help matters, although it was relatively mild. Wahid also has diabetes and is prone to heightened blood pressure when frustrated.

But Wahid is a survivor, and not only in the political sense. Dr. Umar Wahid, the new president's private physician and younger brother, was there at the time of the first stroke. He says that after the operation, doctors gave Wahid only a 2% chance of survival. So much for long odds. After the second stroke, Dr. Wahid told his brother to work no more than eight hours a day. An official of his National Awakening Party (PKB) say Wahid still toils 12-hour days regularly.

Dr. Paul Tahalele, who traveled with Wahid to Belgium in February for his annual checkup at Van Leuven Hospital in Brussels, says the president is in good condition. "The evidence is that he could follow the non-stop plenary during the presidential election," he says. Wahid's last routine examination found that his health, with the exception of his eyesight, was normal for his age, Tahalele adds. The president takes a variety of medications, but aides trying to play down worries about his health are mum on what the prescriptions are.

Wahid is also a fan of jamu, traditional Indonesian herbal tonics. He takes a stroll every morning, helped by his daughters or an assistant. Massage is another daily habit. He neither smokes nor drinks, although he does love high-cholesterol goat meat. And despite his workaholic habits, he is not shy about taking breaks. "He can drop off to sleep anytime, anywhere - in the car, in the plane or while waiting for his turn to speak in a seminar," says a PKB source.

But given Wahid's visible frailty, the soothing words from doctors and aides are unlikely to lay concerns to rest. Nor does Wahid come from long-lived stock. His uncle is the only one in the family who is over 70 and still healthy, while his father died in his 50s. Indonesia can only pray that this survivor will continue to beat the odds.

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