Pubdate: Sat, 15 Jan 2000
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group 2000
Author: Robert Elliott of Reuters, Buenos Aires


A suspected drug dealer disguised as a doctor has been caught trying to
sneak into the room where Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is
recovering from cocaine abuse, his doctor said yesterday.

"Yesterday we detected the entrance of a false doctor who had a stethoscope
and hospital clothing. From all the information I gathered it was a [drug]
peddler," said Carlos Alvarez, a cardiologist.

The intruder escaped after being discovered by staff at the Sacred Heart
clinic in Buenos Aires, where Maradona, 39, has been convalescing after
collapsing in Uruguay 10 days ago, suffering from hypertension and an
irregular heart beat.

"His sickness is caused by cocaine. This is like giving kilos of salt to a
hypertense person so he has a cardiovascular attack," said Mr Alvarez.

This week doctors said the Argentine star, an admitted cocaine addict, had
flirted with death by taking such a quantity of drugs that his heart rate
was reduced to 38% of capacity.

The unmasking of the drug dealer had prompted a decision to tighten
security around Maradona by transferring him to a neuropsychiatric
institute "as soon as possible".

Maradona had raised hopes that he was on the road to recovery on Thursday
by working out in the clinic's gym. His heart beat has improved but doctors
warn the footballer's health depends on his resolve to stay away from drugs
and alcohol. "Psychologically it's going to take him years to recover,"
said Marina Alvarez Noble, a psychologist.

Maradona's personal doctor, Alfredo Cahe, has suggested that he go to
rehabilitation centres in Canada or Cuba.

Maradona first dabbled with drugs while playing for Barcelona at the age of
22. After his career peaked with Argentina's 1986 World Cup win in Mexico,
his growing dependency led to 15-month suspensions from world soccer in
1991 and 1994. He retired in 1997.
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