Originally created 04/24/04

Maradona taken off respirator but still in intensive care, doctors say



BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Doctors removed former soccer star Diego Maradona from a respirator Friday, but he remained in intensive care for a sixth consecutive day battling severe heart and lung problems.

The medical team treating the 43-year-old Maradona said it "suspended" use of a breathing tube at midday, replacing it with a plastic mask to provide him with oxygen.

The doctors said in a statement they continued to administer medicines to treat a heart inflammation and lung infection.

"The respirator was suspended. He continues to make progress," it said.

Days after his hospitalization, Maradona's steadfast fans continued their vigil by burning candles, chanting his name waving banners outside the downtown Buenos Aires clinic.

"If your heart gets healthy, so will mine!" read one new banner strung up Friday by fans.

The crowd has built a shrine of sorts to their idol with posters of a youthful, leaner Maradona from his athletic heyday in the 1980s.

Fans planned a rally Saturday outside the hospital. Organizers handed out leaflets urging people to turn out in the blue-and-yellow jersey of Maradona's former team, Boca Juniors.

But Boca Juniors club president Mauricio Macri said he would discourage any noisy display outside a hospital. "I am all with the people showing their support, but I don't believe we need some kind of act outside the doors of the clinic," Macri said.

Maradona's two teen-age daughters, Dalma and Gianina, issued a statement urging the rally be called off, saying their father and the other patients need their rest.

"We can pray for him as we are sure this is the best thing we can do for our dad," the statement said.

Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title, was admitted to the Suizo-Argentina Clinic on Sunday because of chest pains and breathing problems.

In recent days, Maradona has been visited by his former wife, Claudia, soccer players and coaches.

Authorities said the hospitalization was not drug-related.

In January 2000, Maradona was hospitalized while vacationing in the Uruguayan resort city of Punta del Este. At the time, he was diagnosed with a severe heart condition, but months later he moved to Cuba to undergo drug rehabilitation.

Maradona has a history of drug and medical problems. In 1991, he was suspended from an Italian team for 15 months after testing positive for cocaine.

Three years later, the international soccer organization FIFA suspended him for 15 months because of a positive test at the World Cup finals in the United States. Maradona retired from professional soccer in 1997.