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'Joe's a fighter'
DiMaggio stable after coma, but situation still dire
Posted: Saturday December 12, 1998 09:35 AM
HOLLYWOOD, Florida (AP) -- Joe DiMaggio startled doctors with his resiliency when he awoke from a coma hours after he stopped responding to antibiotics for a worsened lung infection.
DiMaggio was in stable condition, no longer running a fever, and his family members felt confident enough to leave the hospital for the night, Dr. Howard Barron said after checking on his famous patient Friday night.
"'He's still not out of the woods. I don't want to make the situation brighter than it is. But it's at least encouraging he has woken up," Barron told WSVN, a Miami television station. "We just hope he continues into tomorrow. We'll take one day at a time."
When he visited the 84-year-old baseball great after he awoke from the coma, Barron said he asked DiMaggio if he was feeling better.
"He looked at me. He shook my hand, started trying to talk through his trach tube and was shaking his head in a positive way," Barron said. "Joe's a fighter. Joe, being an athlete, I think he has a bit more fight in him, more than the average person." Earlier, Barron's brother, Earl, another physician treating DiMaggio, announced the Hall of Famer had emerged from the coma.
"You won't believe it, but he's awake and he's moving his head and grabbing my hand and squeezing it," Earl Barron said. "It's completely unexpected. The coma that was present deeply this morning is just not there now."
DiMaggio's family -- including his brother, Dom; grandchildren Kathy and Paula; and longtime friend and lawyer Morris Engelberg -- spent time at his bedside at Memorial Regional Hospital.
"We're near the end," Engelberg said. "It's a question of hours, perhaps days."
The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported Saturday that the family had signed a "do not resuscitate" order, which Earl Barron said would allow the 84-year-old baseball great to die with a "measure of dignity."
The order would mean that should his heart stop, no measures would be taken to restart it, Earl Barron said. But he added that DNR did not mean removal from the respirator that has helped DiMaggio to breathe since his October 14 surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his right lung.
"If he were taken off life support -- off the respirator -- I don't think he would survive more than a half hour," Earl Barron said.
An order for a DNR would be a unanimous decision made by the family.
"It's up to Dom, Paula and Kathy," Engelberg said. "It's horrible."
Earl Barron, a cardiologist who has treated DiMaggio for five years, said he had no medical explanation for the surprising turnaround, adding that maybe all the prayers contributed to it.
However, he said chances of recovery were slim after DiMaggio weakened from an "overwhelming" lung infection.
"It's still a very dire situation," Earl Barron said. 'The whole thing could change in 15 minutes.'
On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the best outlook, Earl Barron said DiMaggio was at 0.5 in the morning and improved to a 1 by afternoon.
He said DiMaggio's fever, which had shot up to 102 degrees, was down again Friday afternoon. He did not give his exact temperature, but said DiMaggio's lungs sounded clear.
"The central issue is the lungs -- those are the things that really aren't good and they're causing us major problems right now," Earl Barron said.
He did say DiMaggio's blood pressure and heart and kidney functions were good, and he was not in pain. However, X-rays showed the pneumonia more severe. That sent DiMaggio's temperature soaring, a repeat of the troubling fever he had last weekend.
DiMaggio entered the hospital October 12. Since the surgery, he has had serious setbacks and stunning improvements -- his doctor characterized them last week as "two steps forward and one back."
Fluid was drained from his lungs several times and his blood pressure dropped so rapidly on November 16 that a Catholic priest was summoned to administer last rites.
On December 3, when Earl Barron temporarily adjusted the breathing tube in DiMaggio's throat, DiMaggio said, "I want to get the hell out of here and go home."
As the lung infection has taken a firmer hold, hundreds of cards and letters for DiMaggio have arrived at Engelberg's office, including greetings from current and former Yankee players and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
DiMaggio was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1955, four years after his retirement, and in 1969 was chosen as the greatest living baseball player.
His last public appearance was September 27, when he was honored at Yankee Stadium and received replicas of nine championship rings that were stolen from his hotel room three decades ago. The Yankees had wanted him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the World Series, but by then, he was in the hospital just north of Miami."I'm sure that he would want his fans to know that he would certainly love to recover," Earl Barron said, "but I'm not certain that that's going to happen."
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