Castro unlikely to live, experts say

Newspaper article indicates grave prognosis for Cuban leader

January 17, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

MIAMI -- A Spanish newspaper's report that Cuban leader Fidel Castro is wasting away from life-threatening complications after intestine-related surgeries means he has few chances of recovering, medical experts said yesterday.

If the anonymous sources that El Pais quoted are accurate, Castro has problems with his intestines and gall bladder, significantly decreasing his chances for survival, said Dr. Miguel J. Rodriguez, a gastroenterologist in Miami.

"The chances are he won't survive this illness," Rodriguez said, adding that Castro would have an "80 to 95 percent chance of dying" from his ailments.

Other medical experts say the newspaper's article Monday portrays a very ill Castro.

The information came from two people who work at the same Madrid hospital as Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who acknowledged examining Castro in December. He denied that Castro has cancer and said he was recovering well but declined to provide details.

Havana remained silent yesterday on the most recent reports on Castro's health. But a Cuban diplomat in Madrid called the article "an invented story."

The Bush administration stood by its assessment that Castro is terminally ill.

"Nothing from this end has changed," said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates the work of all U.S. spy agencies.

Garcia Sabrido told CNN yesterday that any statement on Castro's health that does not come directly from his medical team was "without foundation" - but stopped short of denying the report by El Pais.

But if the article is true, it would be the most detailed yet on the ailments that have kept Castro out of power for 5 1/2 months. It also would point to a much graver condition than Garcia Sabrido has portrayed.

The 80-year-old Castro has undergone at least three failed operations and suffered several infections resulting from diverticulitis - perforations of small pouches in the intestinal wall that weaken with age - according to the Spanish newspaper. His prognosis is "very grave," the paper said.

"My impression is, he's in deep trouble," said Floriano Marchetti, a surgeon specializing in colon and rectal cancer at the University of Miami. "This sounds like a problem that could kill anybody. Particularly in an older man, this could be deadly."

Since Castro ceded power to his brother Raul on July 31, saying only that he had undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding, Havana has released only a handful of photos and videos of the Cuban leader. The most recent release was Oct. 28 - more than 11 weeks ago - in a video that showed him looking thin and tired but walking and ridiculing rumors that he had died.

Oriol Guell, one of the reporters who wrote the article in El Pais, said Garcia Sabrido had "shared the information with other people in the hospital. ... We got confirmation from two of those people."

Marchetti and other medical experts said the article has some confusing and contradictory parts. The article says Castro has suffered from diverticulitis, but while such perforations can leak bacteria into the abdominal cavity and cause problems, they do not generally bleed.

Diverticulosis, a phrase El Pais doesn't mention, can result in bleeding of the pouches, but that bleeding stays within the intestines and exits through the rectum. Experts said they believe the journalists might have mixed up the terminology.

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