JERUSALEM—Former Israeli President Shimon Peres was in "serious but stable" condition after suffering a major stroke, doctors treating him said Wednesday, as the nation rallied in prayer and support for the 93-year-old elder statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Dr. Yitzhak Kreiss, director of the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, said Peres was in a medically induced coma to allow him to rest after experiencing significant bleeding in the brain.
Peres was rushed to hospital Tuesday after feeling ill and following a battery of tests was diagnosed to have suffered a stroke. Kreiss said Peres was being transferred to the neurosurgical intensive care unit where he would continue to be evaluated.
Israeli media reported that Peres was "fighting for his life," but Rafi Walden, Peres' son-in-law and personal physician, said there appeared to be no imminent threat to his life anymore. The question was what kind of damage was sustained and what kind of recovery he could make, Walden said.
In a phone briefing with reporters, Walden said Peres suffered a stroke in the right side of the brain and was being ventilated and sedated. However, he gave an optimistic forecast, saying all Peres' physical parameters were stable and his blood tests were good. Peres was responsive when addressed, Walden added, and even squeezed his hand when he asked him to.
"We are happy to remark then when the sedation was a little lessened he was reactive," he said. "We'll keep very close to him during the day and hopefully next time when the sedation will be lessened we hope we are going to be able to get in touch with him."
Peres is the elder statesman of Israeli politics, one of the country's most admired symbols and the last surviving link to its founding fathers.
Over a seven-decade career, he's held virtually every senior political office, including three stints as prime minister and extended terms as foreign, defense and finance minister. He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in reaching an interim peace agreement with the Palestinians.
He had remained active since completing his seven-year term as president in 2014, refusing to bow into retirement. His spokeswoman Ayelet Frisch said Tuesday was no exception, with Peres waking early to read the daily newspapers before delivering an hour-long lecture and then uploading a video to his Facebook account in which he encouraged the public to buy locally made products. In the video, he appears weary but is otherwise alert and coherent.
Peres is known to keep a healthy lifestyle and has long prided himself in his longevity and stamina. Earlier this year, Peres was twice hospitalized for heart problems but quickly discharged. His office said Peres received a pacemaker last week.
Long a divisive figure in Israeli politics, Peres finally became one of Israel's most popular public figures in his later years.
"In his people's eyes he ceased to be a politician. He became an historic figure, larger than politics, larger than everyday affairs, a figure in a league of his own," wrote Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea.
As word of his stroke spread, Peres was showered with well wishes from political friends and foes alike.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who defeated Peres in 1996 to become prime minister, personally called the hospital to enquire on Peres' condition and posted a Facebook message wishing him a speedy recovery.
"Shimon, we love you and the entire nation wishes you get well," Netanyahu said.
The chief rabbis of Israel have called on the public to pray for Peres' recovery. His son, Hemi Peres, said the family has been overwhelmed with the love and affection it has received from Israel and around the world. But he warned that it was far too soon to eulogize his tenacious father.
"We are still in a battle and it is the beginning of the battle," he told Israel's Army Radio.
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