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Netanyahu released from hospital following implantation of pacemaker

Prime minister heads to Knesset for key vote on judicial overhaul bill, despite reported orders from doctors to stay home and rest

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking from Sheba Medical Center, July 23, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking from Sheba Medical Center, July 23, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was released Monday morning from hospital following the installation of a pacemaker early Sunday that doctors said was needed after he suffered a potentially fatal heart interruption.

Video from the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan showed Netanyahu’s convoy leaving the facility around 8:20 a.m.

Netanyahu later proceeded to the Knesset, where lawmakers have been voting on the coalition’s proposal to block courts from exercising judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government and ministerial decisions.

Some Hebrew media reports claimed that doctors recommended Netanyahu rest for 48 hours, while others said he was told simply not to exert himself.

A spokesperson for Sheba told The Times of Israel that the hospital would not disclose what doctors told Netanyahu when he was discharged as such information is confidential.

In a video Netanyahu released from his hospital room on Sunday night, he thanked those who had sent him wishes for a speedy recovery and the doctors who took care of him.

“As you can see, I am doing very well. We are continuing our efforts to complete the legislation, and also our efforts to do it by agreement — tomorrow morning I will join my colleagues in the Knesset. In the meantime, thank you very much,” Netanyahu said.

Doctors who implanted the pacemaker early Sunday morning later revealed that Netanyahu had suffered a potentially life-threatening “transient heart block.”

A subcutaneous heart monitor implanted a week ago registered the danger and issued an alert, they said, prompting Netanyahu’s immediate hospitalization and the fitting of a pacemaker.

The doctors also acknowledged that they had spotted irregularities in an electrocardiogram test when he was hospitalized last week, but had nonetheless assured the public that the premier’s heart was “completely normal.”

Official results released by the hospital and the Prime Minister’s Office at the time listed dehydration as the cause of his hospitalization and specifically stated: “At no point was any heart arrhythmia found.” However, in a video statement released by Sheba Medical Center on Sunday morning, it was revealed that the prime minister has a history of heart conduction problems.

In a statement, the doctors also said that Netanyahu had fainted last weekend, which was information the Prime Minister’s Office had not revealed at the time.

Speaking to Channel 12 news and in a video statement, professors Roy Beinart and Eyal Nof from the Sheba Medical Center described the events prior to the implantation of the pacemaker, which they said was “urgent.”

Nof said that when Netanyahu was hospitalized on July 15, an ECG test detected an anomaly, but more intensive tests did not spot any problems. The anomaly was a heart conduction problem that Netanyahu was known to have had for years, the doctors said. They added that he was showing symptoms of dehydration.

“Last week there was a disturbance in the ECG. Following the disturbance, [Netanyahu] underwent an invasive examination, which did not justify a pacemaker, but as is customary in such cases, a subcutaneous monitor was implanted” as a precaution, Nof said.

Beinart then explained (Hebrew link) that without the monitor on Saturday alerting doctors to a problem with Netanyahu’s pulse and pointing to an atrioventricular (AV) block, his life could have been in danger. “The disturbance was only for a few seconds. If the disorder had not passed and the heart rate had not recovered, we would reach a slow heart rate, to the point of loss of consciousness and, God forbid, cardiac arrest.”

Nof said the monitor had indicated a “transient heart block.”

Asked whether the monitor had thus saved Netanyahu’s life, Nof said, “Absolutely.”

According to a Channel 13 report on Sunday night, it was Netanyahu who activated the monitoring device to warn his doctors when he felt dizzy, with his doctors fearing his life was in danger. For 12 seconds, Netanyahu suffered from heart arrhythmia, leading his doctors to believe his life was in immediate danger and leading to the urgent implanting of the cardiac pacing device, the Channel 13 report said.

Problems with the heart’s conduction system usually result from heart muscle damage, genetics, or the effects of certain medications.

While some doctors and officials may have known about Netanyahu’s heart conduction issues, this information had not been publicly released.

Channel 12’s health reporter Yoav Even, speaking from Sheba on Sunday, said it had now been revealed that Netanyahu has had a heart conduction problem “for 20 years… not a life-threatening condition but a chronic one.” It has required constant monitoring “and, according to Sheba’s experts, he was indeed monitored.”

Netanyahu’s surgery came amid rising criticism over a lack of transparency relating to the premier’s medical condition and the fact that during last week’s hospitalization, information was only released by the hospital in coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office or by the office itself, and has turned out to be partial and inaccurate.

“Until we reported that he had undergone treatment in the catheterization unit, nobody had bothered to tell the general public,” noted Even. “And two days later when we reported that he had undergone a [diagnostic] heart catheterization procedure [to check the heart’s electrical conduction], with a catheter introduced into the heart… they still insisted that the reason for his hospitalization was dehydration.” (The Times of Israel reported last week that Netanyahu underwent an electrophysiological [EP] study, which involves a heart catheterization that goes into the right side of the heart and measures intervals of electrical conduction between specific points in the heart’s conduction system.)

Added Even: “The hospital continues to insist that he was hospitalized [last week] for dehydration, but more and more facts are emerging that were hidden from us that raise the suspicion that, nevertheless, there was something heart-related. Sheba denies it, but they denied that he underwent checks in the catheterization unit; they hid that he had a diagnostic catheterization procedure.”

The doctors union of the Histadrut Labor Federation demanded a probe over the misinformation about Netanyahu’s health, Kan reported Sunday. Unnamed senior union officials told the broadcaster that the information about Netanyahu’s health that was published following installation of the pacemaker “is very relevant to the public” and therefore should have been released earlier. They also noted that if Netanyahu were to make his medical records public, this would prevent rumors about his condition.

Related: Questions swirl about PM’s health after discharge from hospital with heart monitor

Despite protocols requiring prime ministers to release an annual health report, Netanyahu has not published one since 2016. It has not been possible to legally force him to share this health information as the protocols have not been enshrined in law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a video message, explaining that he is going into the hospital to have a pacemaker fitted, early on July 23, 2023. (Screenshot)

The doctors said that generally when patients arrive at the hospital with symptoms of a condition — be it dehydration or another ailment — and an ECG anomaly is spotted, they are then sent for more comprehensive testing.

Those tests, conducted on Netanyahu a week ago, did not find any specific issue with his heart.

“When the prime minister left the hospital on Sunday [July 16] we had the feeling that the [heart] incident was secondary to dehydration… We couldn’t completely rule out that there was no disturbance… so we acted as we did in the way that we would for every patient that arrives in that condition,” Beinart said.

The premier’s subcutaneous monitor transmitted an alert pointing to an atrioventricular (AV) block on Saturday night, the doctors said, leading to the decision to install the pacemaker.

Around 4 p.m. on Sunday, Netanyahu released a video from the hospital, thanking well-wishers and doctors at Sheba. “As you can see, I’m doing great,” he said.

He also referred to the deliberations on the coalition’s contentious “reasonableness” bill, ahead of the expected final votes Monday or Tuesday.

“We are continuing with the efforts to complete the legislation — and the effort to do so with agreement,” he said. “In any case, I want you to know that tomorrow morning I’ll join my colleagues at the Knesset,” Netanyahu added.

A week ago, Netanyahu, 73, was hospitalized from Saturday to Sunday after he complained of dizziness following a trip Friday to the Sea of Galilee, where he acknowledged spending several hours in the sun and in scorching heat “without a hat, without water.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his wife Sara during a vacation near the Sea of Galilee on July 14, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

At the time, Sheba said doctors had completed a series of examinations and found that the premier’s heart “is completely normal,” that “at no point was any heart arrhythmia found.” However, it added that doctors “decided to use a subcutaneous Holter, as is customary” — a device that monitors one’s heart and warns if there are irregularities.

Sheba did not address reports at the time that Netanyahu had fainted at home. Some Hebrew media reports at the time said he had also fallen and hit his head; these reports, too, were not addressed by the hospital or Netanyahu’s office.

In a video message shortly before 1 a.m. on Sunday this week, Netanyahu said: “A week ago they put in a monitoring device. That device beeped this evening and said I need to receive a pacemaker. I need to do this already tonight. I’m feeling excellent, but I’m listening to my doctors.”

Related: Netanyahu underwent surgery to have pacemaker fitted. Here’s why, and what it will do

A pacemaker is a device that stimulates one’s heart to control or increase the heartbeat if it is too slow or irregular. Implanting it usually takes one to two hours while the patient is sedated. The procedure is not usually done under general anesthetic, and the patient is usually conscious though groggy.

Michael Bachner and Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.

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