Sharon- Ilan Assayag
Cars following the ambulance carrying the ex-prime minister to his Negev ranch on Friday morning. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering a series of strokes in 2006, was transferred early Friday morning to his home on a ranch in the south of Israel.

Sharon remained on the ranch for the weekend as a trial run, treated by hospital staff, and will make the journey several times more before being moved permanently to his home.

Dr. Shlomo Noy, director of rehabilitation at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, said the complexity of Sharon's condition necessitated several practice runs. "He will be transferred there for weekends, to make sure his environment works correctly, check the operation of the artificial ventilation and other equipment. If these several trials are successful, the road will be open for his complete return to home and family."

Sharon, 82, has been hospitalized at the respiratory support and rehabilitation center at Sheba since May 2006, four and a half months after his hospitalization at Hadassah University Hospital at Ein Kerem following a stroke.

He quickly sank into a vegetative state. Sheba declined to provide details on Sharon's condition, for privacy considerations.

On his return to Sheba, Sharon will be once again in the direct care of a medical team headed by the director of respiratory rehabilitation, Dr. Arie Wollner, and Dr. Eugenia Agranov, director of the head trauma unit at the neurological rehabilitation department. Nurses are stationed at Sharon's side at all times, and he has a separate room covered by CCTV cameras and security detail.

When moved permanently to the ranch, Sharon will be treated by a private medical team, monitored by the Sheba rehabilitation center.

"It's a gradual process, when a hospital discharges a chronic patient to his home," AFP reported Noy told public radio. "It's a structured process, whereby you check that the support and medical environment in which the patient is to be placed permanently is suitable."

The process was likely to entail three to four visits of 48 hours each, during which hospital staff would supervise his home treatment, he added.

As reported by Haaretz last week, the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday approved NIS 1.6 million annual funding for the medical treatment of Sharon. A Finance Ministry representative told the committee that this is the sum it transfers to the Health Ministry each year for that purpose.