Shimon Peres’ status unchanged, still sedated and on respirator


Former Israeli President Shimon Peres remains sedated and on a respirator two days after suffering a massive stroke, his office said.

Peres’ status “remains unchanged,” a statement issued Thursday by his spokesperson said.

“He is being closely monitored by his doctors, and continues to receive treatment as previously set forth,” the statement said. “To enable him to rest, he is still sedated and on a respirator.”

Peres, 93, remains classified as in stable but serious condition.

His doctors and family members say that he has been responsive to activity around him when the anesthesia keeping him in a medically induced coma is lowered. He remains sedated to prevent him from overexerting himself and to promote recovery.

On Tuesday, he was taken to Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer near Tel Aviv after telling his doctor that he felt weak. A pacemaker had been implanted in Peres a week prior.

Peres was diagnosed in July with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm. In January, the veteran statesman had a heart attack and then cardiac angioplasty to open a blocked artery. He was hospitalized twice more with chest pains.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Peres’ bedside on Wednesday evening, where he spoke with family members and Peres’ doctors.

Day after stroke, Shimon Peres ‘responsive’ but remains sedated


Shimon Peres was responsive when briefly taken off medications keeping him in a medically induced coma, his doctor said a day after the former Israeli president suffered a stroke.

Peres remained sedated and on life support Wednesday. He is considered in stable but serious condition, with some improvement.

Dr. Rafi Walden, Peres’ personal physician as well as his son-in-law, said Wednesday morning in a briefing that the family was “happy to see that when there was a pause in anesthetic drugs, we realized he was responsive and probably attentive to what we tell him.”

Peres is being kept sedated so that he does not overexert himself, said Walden, a surgeon. It is not yet known how much damage the brain sustained and what the former president’s recovery will look like.

“We call on all of Israel to join us in hoping and praying for his recovery,” Walden said.

Peres, 93, was taken to Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer near Tel Aviv on Tuesday after telling his doctor that he felt weak. A pacemaker had been implanted in Peres a week prior. Peres was diagnosed in July with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm. In January, Peres had a heart attack and then cardiac angioplasty to open a blocked artery. He was hospitalized twice more with chest pains.

Peres’ office first said in a statement Tuesday evening that Peres was “stable and fully conscious.” The office later announced that Peres’ doctors decided to sedate him and put him on a respirator as he undergoes medical treatment.

In a statement in front of the medical center on Tuesday night, Peres’ son, Chemi, acknowledged to reporters that “in the coming hours, we will have to make decisions,” and said the family was gathering at the hospital. Peres has two other children: a son, Yoni, and a daughter, Tzvia.

Peres, who retired as Israel’s ninth president in 2014 after more than half a century in public life, including a stint as prime minister, won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

He has been very active since retiring as president, especially in his work with the Peres Center for Peace, which he founded.

Hours before his stroke, Peres posted a nearly one-minute video on his Facebook page calling on the Israeli public to buy more products made in Israel.

He wrote as his status: “What is a ‘blue-and-white’ product? For me, it is Israeli salad, our wonderful fruits, our excellent industry and our developed high-tech sector. I am proud of Israeli industry.”

In comments under the post, Israeli Facebook followers praised Peres and called for his speedy recovery.

How to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke


Heart disease and stroke have reached epidemic levels in our country. Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans; stroke is the fourth leading killer. One of every three deaths in this county is caused by cardiovascular disease.

That’s why Medicare is helping to lead the Million Hearts campaign, a national initiative that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years. Because February is also American Heart Month, I wanted to tell you what Medicare is doing to help fight this serious public health problem. And what you can do to fight it, too.

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common one in the United States is coronary artery disease, which can trigger heart attack, severe chest pain, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat. Genetics, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise can contribute to heart disease.

Stroke is a brain attack that occurs when blood flow to the brain becomes blocked. This can be caused either by a blood clot or by a burst blood vessel in or around the brain. Lack of blood flow during stroke can cause portions of the brain to become damaged, often beyond repair.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare recently began covering new preventive health services to help people with Medicare reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.

Starting this year, Medicare will pay for one face-to-face visit each year so that Medicare beneficiaries can discuss with their care providers the best ways to help prevent cardiovascular disease.

The visit must be with your primary care provider, such as your family practice doctor, internal medicine doctor, or a nurse practitioner. And it has to take place in settings such as your primary care provider’s office.

During the visit, your doctor can screen you for high blood pressure and give you advice on how to eat a healthy diet. The idea is to empower people with Medicare to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

Medicare also now covers counseling to help people with Medicare lose weight if they’re obese. An estimated 30 percent of the men and women with Medicare are obese.

If you’re obese based on your body mass index, you’re eligible for face-to-face counseling sessions with your primary-care provider for up to a year.

In addition to the above services, Medicare pays for counseling to help people with Medicare stop smoking and to manage diabetes, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that most major risk factors for heart disease and stroke are preventable and controllable. These factors include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol.

What can you do to reduce your risk? A good first step is talking to your doctor about your heart health and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. Many other lifestyle choices—including eating healthy, exercising regularly, and following your doctor’s instructions about your medications—can help protect your heart and brain health.

Ask your doctor, too, if taking an aspirin each day is right for you.

For more information about the Million Hearts campaign, and about Medicare’s healthy-heart and other preventive health benefits, go to www.Medicare.gov.

If you’d like to check your 10-year risk of heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease—and what you can do about it – go to the American Heart Association’s website, at www.heart.org. In the search box, type “heart attack risk calculator.”


David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Trust Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Sen. Mark Kirk recovering from stroke


U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a leader on pro-Israel and Iran sanctions issues, underwent surgery that was deemed successful after suffering a stroke.

A statement issued Monday from Kirk’s office said the Illinois Republican checked himself into a hospital on Saturday and that doctors discovered he had suffered a stroke.

“Early this morning the Senator underwent surgery to relieve swelling around his brain stemming from the stroke,” the statement said. “The surgery was successful. Due to his young age, good health and the nature of the stroke, doctors are very confident in the Senator’s recovery over the weeks ahead.”

Kirk, 52, who with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) helped craft the latest Iran sanctions, has strong Jewish and pro-Israel backing and is seen as a relative Republican moderate on social issues.

He was elected to the Senate last year to the seat vacated by Barack Obama when he won the presidency in 2008. Previously Kirk had represented the heavily Jewish 10th District comprising parts of Chicago and its northern suburbs.

Botox Treatments Aid Stroke Survivors


Until recently, significant recovery from the physical and mental losses inflicted by a stroke was thought to be limited to a matter of months following injury to the brain, using conventional physical and occupational therapy. Now patients supplementing this with novel treatments, including an innovative use of Botox and a variation on old-fashioned plaster casts, are demonstrating that aggressive long-term therapy can increase the likelihood of complete recovery after a stroke.

One such patient is art curator Meg Perlman, who not too long ago spontaneously applauded at a jazz concert, clapping her hands together for the first time in 19 months. This was another small triumph in her major recovery from a stroke that had initially paralyzed her left side.

Caused by a clot or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, stroke is the leading cause of severe disability today. In the United States alone there are now some 5.4 million stroke survivors, with nearly one in three suffering from permanent disabilities.

“When I went to medical school, the prevailing view was that you lose nerve cells and that’s it, you’re not going to get better. We know now that’s not true. The brain is plastic. It can remodel itself,” said Dr. Steven Flanagan, associate professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the neurophysiatrist treating Perlman.

One recent study showed that therapy could benefit patients who had suffered a stroke more than a decade earlier.

“It’s not something magical that happens in the brain and everyone will recover,” he warns, “but the brain has a greater capacity to recoup from injury than we thought in the past.”

Dr. Steven R. Levine, professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, admits that medicine “still doesn’t know the underlying mechanisms in different phases of stroke recovery.”

Such understanding would make it possible to individualize treatments for most effective results. On the horizon, experiments in mice and some early human trials show promise for enhancing stroke rehab with stem cells, growth hormone, amphetamines, even Viagra.

“Not everyone will improve,” Levine said, “but you never say never and you never take away hope from people.”

Anatomy of a Recovery

Stricken at the young age of 53, physically fit and intellectually active, Perlman has been a prime candidate for total recovery. She’s come a long way since her stroke in August 2003 while vacationing in the south of France. When she awoke on what should have been another day in paradise, she was semiparalyzed and confused. Her husband, author Doug Garr, immediately understood what had happened.

“Her left side was immobile. The left side of her face was frozen,” he recalled. “I recognized it as a stroke because I had seen my father have a stroke two weeks before he died.”

Perlman spent two weeks in intensive care at one of France’s leading teaching hospitals, then was transferred to Mount Sinai’s brain injury rehabilitation unit for another six weeks. There, days filled with physical and occupational therapy helped her reprogram her nervous system to regain control over posture and movement on her left side, and to relearn vital everyday tasks.

Better known for cosmetic enhancement, Botox injections immobilize key muscles in stricken arms or legs, allowing physical therapy and exercise to extend range of motion and flexibility. Effects wear off, so the Botox is reinjected every three months for a year or more. In Perlman’s case, it was the second dose that allowed her left hand to flex out enough to applaud at a concert, after successful attempts during therapy sessions at home.

With research in rehabilitative medicine generally underfunded, doctors don’t have data from large clinical trials to properly assess new treatments. Often patients proceed by trial-and-error, sampling therapies from the exotic to the high-tech; Perlman has had mixed results with acupuncture and with an electrical muscle stimulation device called a NeuroMove.

Then again, low-tech plaster of Paris has proven extremely effective. Called “serial casting,” a monthslong treatment involves stretching affected muscles with a series of plaster casts on an arm or leg for weeks at a time, followed by physical therapy to secure gains in flexibility. Perlman’s latest leg cast had just come off when she was able to stretch the toes on her left foot out and wear a shoe.

By all her therapists’ accounts, Perlman has shown exceptional resolve in fighting the fatigue, discomfort and frustration that are part of stroke recovery.

She has also had to battle the severe depression that a stroke leaves in its wake.

Flanagan observes that depression should be treated early and aggressively in stroke patients.

“We know that happy patients do better in rehab than sad patients,” he says. “We have to help them get the most out of their time in therapy.”

Fuller recovery from stroke takes a loyal, experienced team of therapists. With them, Perlman still keeps up a rigorous schedule of five physical therapy and two occupational therapy sessions a week at home.

“I expect to be 100 percent back,” she said. “I won’t stop until I am.”

She’s thankful for her “wonderful personal team,” including the friends and clients who rallied to her side after she was stricken.

Also appreciated: an occasional boost from strangers.

“I was walking to a restaurant with my cane. A short, Russian-looking man came up to me and said: ‘Did you have a stroke?’ I said ‘yes.’ He jumped up in the air and said: ‘So did I and look at me!'”

Steve Ditlea writes for the New York Daily News.

Holy Moly! Robertson Apologizes


The Rev. Pat Robertson has long preached as though God is on his side — including when he recently cast the stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as God’s punishment for “dividing” the Holy Land by pulling Israel out of Gaza.

But last week, Robertson apparently decided that he’d better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

In a letter to Sharon’s sons, Robertson asked forgiveness for his comments.

“My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father’s illness,” Robertson wrote.

He also mentioned his concern over the danger to Israel posed by two terrorist groups — Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as by Iran and international anti-Semitism.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he believed that Robertson had taken to heart the outrage over his comments.

“I felt he was very sincere. He is a great friend of Israel,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon added that he expected that Robertson will again be allowed to participate in the evangelical project. Plans for the site include an auditorium, a broadcast center and a chapel, as well as paths to connect holy sites, according to the Associated Press.

Robertson’s contrition did not arrive in time to head off a rebuke by David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

“Robertson’s comment,” he said, “reflects the height of insensitivity and is also a perfect example of what happens when theological fanaticism clouds good judgment.”

And there was this from fellow evangelical Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God.”

On the other hand, the episode does suggest a name for Robertson’s proposed theme park: Holier-Than-Thou Land.

 

Problems Abound in Pampering Parents


My mother and father are both in diapers. I wasn't at all prepared for this possibility. Dealing with the visual and olfactory aspect of my son's end products when he was a baby was an expected part of being a mom, but it's a completely different matter when it's my parents wearing the Pampers.

My mother was first. A few years ago, she was on a medication for dementia that instead of keeping her memory, loosened her bowels. Both my sister and I had the traumatic experience of being out in public with mom, hearing her gasp, rushing with her to the nearest restroom and then trying to figure out what to do.

It was demoralizing for my mother and very distressing for my sister and me. We learned to carry extra clothes and diaper wipes with us.

Fortunately, my sister and I both have rather sick senses of humor, and we could later laugh (albeit slightly hysterically) when sharing these nightmares with each other. My mother could even laugh about it, but it was colored by obvious pain about her aging and loss of control.

My mother is no longer on that medication and blissfully unaware (because of her dementia) of the fact that she wears diapers. Well, in fact, she actually does notice it, but forgets a few minutes later.

Mom lives in a board and care where, thankfully, someone other than me gets to handle her potty needs. I'm adjusting to the fact that my mother is old and child-like in many ways.

My 86-year-old father is still functioning fine mentally. He's still counseling clients and writing a book about handling fears. He's funny and together and basically still “my dad.”

But two years ago, a stroke left dad partially paralyzed on his right side. A fiercely independent man, this was a real blow to his pride and his view of himself. (The good news is that it forced him to stop driving, something we'd desperately wanted for years.)

After the stroke, dad was a prize student for the occupational and physical therapists, and he can now dress and feed himself, walk with a cane and even slowly type on his computer. He desperately wants to do everything for himself.

But the stroke left him with occasional loss of bowel control, and prostate problems have caused him incontinence. He wears pull-ups.

Dad hates it, and he is terribly frustrated and angry when he has an accident. I went to visit him in Ohio last August, and there was no doubt when an accident would occur, because dad announced it loudly, like a wounded or trapped animal. It was clearly horrible for him to be so powerless.

Much to my dismay, (yes, I confess, I was not thrilled) he often needed help with the clean up after such an accident. He would make his way into the bathroom, close the door, deal with the situation by himself and then he'd shout my name.

The first time I heard him yell, it sounded like panic, and I thought he'd hurt himself. I flew from the living room and threw open the bathroom door.

There he was, sitting on the thrown, his Depends around his ankles. My first thought was, “Oh good, he's OK.”

Then I felt irritated that I was being called to witness him in that state. Then came a childhood memory: dad, sitting on the can, his pants around his ankles, reading the entire Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer, while my sister and I impatiently asked him when he was going to be done.

But this was different. We are now adults, and I haven't seen my father's rear end for about 48 years. Worse than that, he was ashamed and embarrassed at having to ask for help.

The circumstances during that visit brought up a lot of intense feelings about aging (both his and mine) and about mortality (both his and mine). And there was a deep sense of loss of the father I used to have — really until just a few years ago — who was vibrant, active and independent. We were both grieving.

One morning during my visit, I woke up with a full bladder and headed to the aforementioned one-and-only bathroom. The door was closed.

“Dad, are you in there?” (duh.)

“Hey, good morning sweetie. Don't worry, I won't be long!”

An hour later, he was still in there. Need I say, I was really uncomfortable. I looked in the garage for a pot of some sort. No luck.

Then I thought about squatting in the backyard, but there aren't fences between homes in this small Ohio town. So, I did what any desperate, agile person with a full bladder would do — I used the kitchen sink.

My father was still in the bathroom, so I called my sister. I described the entire scene, and we both had one of our “this-is-terrible-but-we-have-to-do-it-so-let's-find-it-amusing” giggles, which helped.

I have to admit that those first three days with my dad seemed like a month. I felt guilty that I couldn't wait to leave. For most of my life, I had my father on a pedestal.

He could fix anything — including personal problems. He skied and played tennis into his late 70s. He always had words of wisdom when I was in a crisis. He's still a sharp, vibrant man.

But since his stroke, it seems like he's shrinking in many ways. His ability to think of things beyond his physical challenges has diminished, which means a decrease in our usual stimulating, fun interactions.

However, after a few days, dad regained control of his bodily functions, and we did have a final day to talk before I returned to Los Angeles.

As often happens with people facing their later years, dad went back in time. He reminisced about his grandparents and his parents. He cried as he talked about how much his mother and father gave to others and how he admired them.

He recalled what a mensch his oldest brother was and what a bully his other brother was. He confessed to skinny-dipping with my mother before they were married. (Something I wish I'd known when she made such a big deal about me necking in the car with my high school boyfriend.)

Then dad switched to my childhood, laughing as he recalled me (at 3 years old) telling the towering 6-foot, 4-inch gentleman next door that it wasn't “nice to spit.” He also enjoyed reminiscing about the time he bought my sister boxing gloves so that she could hit me when I picked on her. Our shared laughter felt wonderful.

My father's hearing aids weren't working, which meant that most of our two-hour conversation that day involved him loudly saying, “What?” and me shouting my responses at him. I was exhausted and hoarse by the time he informed me — loud enough for the neighbors to hear — that he had to go to the bathroom.

And it was fine.

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, oral historian and owner of Living Legacies Family Histories. She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

River of Life


On Jan. 12, 1995, Valerie Sobel’s 19-year-old son, Andre, died of a brain tumor. Exactly one year later, her husband shot himself. His suicide note stated that he did not wish to live past his son’s tombstone unveiling. Three months later, Sobel’s mother died of a stroke.

“This kind of agony hits you in the gut,” says Valerie Sobel, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor. “At one point, I had a breakdown. I didn’t think I was going to live.”

A vision Valerie Sobel had on her son’s deathbed has helped her to recover. After Andre Sobel died in her arms, she held him for several hours and determined to do charitable work in his name. In February 2000, she quit her thriving interior design practice to open the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation, which helps single mothers with gravely ill children.

Aug. 10 is the deadline for the organization’s second annual essay contest, open to cancer survivors 21 years old and younger. The topic is: “The letter I would have liked to receive from my friends during my illness.” The first prize is $5,000.

Over the past year, the foundation has also provided about $200,000 to several dozen families with no place to turn. “I was neither single nor financially challenged when Andre became ill, and I barely survived,” says Sobel, explaining why the group targets single mothers. “A child’s life-threatening illness devastates any family, but for a single parent without financial resources, it’s unimaginable. I don’t want mothers to have to go to work when their children need them. I want to help them stay by their child’s side for the journey.”

Even before suffering multiple losses in the mid-1990s, Sobel knew all about struggle. In 1941, when she was 3 days old, her father was whisked off to a Nazi labor camp. She survived by hiding with a non-Jewish family and in safe houses sponsored by the Holocaust rescuer Raoul Wallenberg.

After fleeing Communist Hungary with her parents in 1957, she dropped out of high school to support her family and went to work as an actor, appearing in films such as “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (as Valerie Varda) and TV shows such as “Wagon Train.” In 1971, she gave it all up to marry Erwin Sobel, a successful trial attorney and fellow Holocaust survivor. Four years later, their only son, Andre, was born.

By 1993, the family (which by then included a daughter, Simone, now 22) had moved into an elegant home next to a golf course in Rancho La Costa, Calif. Andre Sobel had grown into a quiet, intense, charismatic young man who voraciously studied everything from Kafka to St. Augustine. “He used to leave the house before dawn each morning to read for three hours on the beach,” Sobel recalls. “It’s as if he knew on some level that he didn’t have much time.”

Andre Sobel had already been accepted to film school at NYU when he woke up with double vision one morning in November 1993. Six weeks later, his mother received the news in a gray hospital corridor: her son had inoperable brain cancer. “I fainted,” recalls Valerie Sobel, who dropped down to 85 pounds in the frightening weeks after Andre’s diagnosis.

Over the next year, she nursed her son, as the tumor caused him to go blind and to lose his ability to walk. In January 1995, he could no longer fight the cancer. “I gave him permission to go, and 10 seconds later, he let go of my hand and died,” Sobel says.

After her son’s death, the interior designer transformed his bedroom into a sanctuary that was featured in the October 1997 issue of Architectural Digest.

Despite the loss of her husband and mother in the following year, Sobel held fast to her vision of a charitable organization in Andre’s name. She created a family endowment to fund the foundation, hired an administrator, and arranged for social workers at four Los Angeles area pediatric hospitals to identify families in need.

Since February 2000, the organization has helped 67 families pay for everything from rent to medical insurance to alternative cancer treatments. Recipients have included a woman who was about to be evicted from her single room and a blue-collar worker who was finally able to quit her job to care for a son paralyzed by a spinal tumor.

The work is healing for Sobel. “It’s become my mission in life,” she says. “I’m grateful to be able to help others whose lives I intimately understand.”

For information or essay contest submission forms, visitthe Web site at www.AndreRiverOfLife.org  or call (310) 276-7111.

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