Castro had brain illness, says surgeon who defected No other sources have confirmed report about Cuban leader

July 20, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER-TRIBUNE

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Cuban President Fidel Castro was treated in October for a potentially fatal illness affecting the brain, according to Dr. Elizabeth Trujillo Izquierdo, a Cuban surgeon who said she was part of the medical team at Havana's CIMEQ Hospital.

Trujillo defected in April and is living in Costa Rica, where she has been hiding since she said she was the object of a kidnap attempt by presumed Castro agents last month.

Her identity has been confirmed through documents and multiple sources. But no other sources in or outside Cuba have confirmed her report of Castro's illness.

News of the 71-year-old Cuban leader's health is guarded like a state secret, although rumors of illnesses have circulated on the island and abroad for years.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry in Havana did not return calls requesting comment.

Trujillo, 34, said Castro arrived at the hospital in October with symptoms of hypertensive encephalopathy, a traumatic rise in blood pressure that often leads to stroke and usually implies at least partial paralysis.

The condition paralyzes brain functions and can lead to death in severe cases.

Trujillo said Castro was rushed to the Center for Medical and Surgical Research (CIMEQ) on Oct. 22 and was released Oct. 28.

She said he was brought back two days later for a two-day stay.

"The medical diagnosis that appears on his medical records for that admission is hypertensive encephalopathy," she said.

According to Trujillo, the treatment given to Castro basically consisted of "sedating him as much as possible, almost to a state of coma, during the first three days, to prevent the formation of a blood clot that might affect the brain."

Trujillo also said she has heard from other doctors that Castro suffers from "cardiac problems" that she cannot describe because she had no access to the specific information.

However, rumors that Castro suffers from lung cancer are false, she said. Rumors of lung cancer circulated after Castro quit smoking cigars several years ago.

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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