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Maradona 'improving': doctor
Updated: 2004-04-20 09:12

Football idol Diego Maradona was improving and responding to treatment in a hospital ringed by well-wishers, doctors said, as he fought for his life after a major heart attack.

Argentina's soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen kissing the 1986 World Soccer Cup after Argentina defeated West Germany in Mexico City.  [AFP/File]
The 43-year-old Maradona, whose fame as a spectacular but controversial footballer gave way to tales of drug abuse in recent years, was admitted to a private clinic late Sunday with heart trouble.

By Monday Maradona was on a respirator due to a lung infection, which complicated his heart condition. He suffered a heart attack four years ago.

"His heart has not been further damaged," his doctor, Alfredo Cahe, said.

Cahe, who has also attended former president Carlos Menem, said there was a "slight improvement" in Maradona's overall condition although he remained on the critical list.

Cahe said that Maradona's condition had been complicated by an infection on both lungs, however the doctor said he was confident that "he will respond positively to treatment with antibiotics."

The doctor who treated Maradona for his heart attack four years ago, Frank Torres, told the DyN agency that this attack was more serious because he did not need a respirator to help him breathe in 2000.

Buenos Aires swirled with rumors about the cause of the illness, with the TN television channel saying Maradona's plight stemmed from a drug overdose.

Argentinian former soccer star Diego Armando Maradona, seen here 18 April 2004 in Buenos Aires, was hospitalized suffering from a heart failure and hypertension according to the medical report. [AFP]
However Torres said he thought Sunday's heart attack was not directly linked to drug abuse, as was the case in 2000, and Cahe confirmed that.

In the meantime, a string of Maradona's current and former friends have appeared at the hospital, including Maradona's ex-wife, Claudia Villafane, and their adolescent daughters Dalma and Gianina.

President Nestor Kirchner's spokesman said the chief of state had offered to place himself at Villafane's "disposal for whatever may be necessary."

However, while the sport legend's condition is also being closely followed by fans outside the clinic and fellow athletes, the press for its part have so far failed to become enraptured.

Former Uruguayan footballer Ariel Krasouski, who played with Maradona at Argentina's Boca Juniors in 1980-1981, said he felt "great pain, because Diego was an excellent friend, a great kid on whom life played a dirty trick."

Maladona kisses his 14-year-old daughter on her birthday. [sina.com]
Considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, Maradona has battled drug addiction for years. He was suspended while playing in the Italian championship in the 1990s after testing positive for cocaine.

Since January 2000, Maradona has spent a lot of time in Cuba where he has made attempts to kick his alleged drug habit.

Former Argentine footballer Enrique Wolff, who was in Cuba earlier this year with Maradona, said he remembered his being "the Diego of always: a little sad but not depressed."

"He wanted to return to Argentina, even though every time he returns some things disturb him," Wolff said.

Maradona's recent return to Argentina from Cuba on March 22 had prompted concern and speculation about his health because of the weight he had put on.

Despite health concerns, he was seen playing football on March 23 with students and personnel of La Plata university, a game in which he scored a goal from a penalty kick.

His roller-coaster career, which included 34 goals in 91 matches for Argentina, began in 1975 and ended in 1997.

He led Argentina to its second World Cup title in 1986 after winning a controversial quarter-final game against England, when he scored his infamous "hand of God" goal by duping the referee when he fisted the ball into the net in a 2-1 win in Mexico City.

He also played for a host of famous clubs, including his home side Boca Juniors, Spanish giants Barcelona and Italy's Napoli.

In 2000 he tied with Pele as the greatest footballer ever, in a poll run by world governing body FIFA.

But unlike the gentle Brazilian genius, Maradona's private life was a maelstrom of highs and lows that finally took a devastating toll on his own health.

Standing watch outside the hospital was a throng of journalists and a small pack of longtime fans. Rodolfo Gimenez, 20, arrived almost 24 hours ago. "I am going to stay here for as long as is necessary," he said hopefully.

Another passerby, Cesar Contrucci, said: "Diego is Argentina. He is a passion. Sometimes he is criticized but he is the people. He is down-to-earth, easy to understand. ... If the world knows Argentina it is thanks to Maradona."

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