Maradona leaves hospital to stay with friends

Updated on Apr 30, 2004 10:41 AM IST

Diego Maradona left a Buenos Aires hospital on Thursday, 12 days after being admitted with critical breathing problems.

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PTI | ByReuters, Buenos, Aires

Diego Maradona left hospital on Thursday to stay with friends, eluding media who had kept a vigil since the Argentine soccer great was rushed to intensive care with lung and heart trouble 12 days ago.

Maradona's covert departure sparked a manhunt by the waiting press pack, which has given blanket coverage to the national hero since he was taken ill with a swollen heart on April 18 after watching his beloved Boca Juniors play.

"Given (his improved health), various treatments have been indicated, and it is up to the patient and his personal doctor .... to decide how they go about this," the Suizo-Argentina clinic said.

The 43-year-old, regarded as one of the greatest players in soccer history, moved to a friend's house on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. He has been living in Cuba for much of the past four years being treated for cocaine addiction.

Reuters television pictures and photographs showed an overweight Maradona, with bushy black hair and a red and black jacket, mingling with friends by a golf cart outside the large country house only hours after he left the hospital.

He stretched his arms in the air before walking, unaided and with a relaxed swagger, into the house.

Maradona has been back on his feet since Wednesday, walking around his hospital room and watched Argentina play Morocco in a friendly international.

That was a vast improvement from a few days previously when he had been in a critical condition, heavily sedated and on an artificial respirator.

Hundreds of fans, journalists and tourists had gathered day and night by the hospital, leaving cards and pictures of their hero. Others prayed with Rosary beads.

After his departure on Thursday, a large banner was unfurled by some fans with the words 'God Exists' emblazoned upon it.

Rising from a Buenos Aires slum to lead Argentina to World Cup victory, Maradona's is the ultimate rags-to-riches story and in Argentina he has gained the status of the likes of Che Guevara -- whose image is tattooed on his arm -- and Eva Peron.

At the peak of his form, he led Argentina to a 3-2 triumph over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final but in 1991 he failed a dope test for cocaine and was banned for 15 months.

He played in his fourth World Cup in the United States in 1994 but tested positive for a cocktail of drugs the day before he was due to make a record 22nd appearance.

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