Sen. Jesse Helms' condition continues to improve since his heart surgery in April, and he hopes to be out of the hospital next week, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Chief of staff Jimmy Broughton said the 80-year-old senator was breathing without supplemental oxygen when he visited the Republican senator Wednesday at a hospital in Fairfax, Va.

"He's doing well," Broughton said.

Helms, R-N.C., had an operation April 25 to replace a worn-out valve installed in his heart 10 years ago.

He has been eating more and was pleased to be breathing unaided, Broughton said Wednesday: "He was very proud of himself."

Helms announced in 2000 that he would retire next January and return to North Carolina at the end of his fifth six-year term in the Senate.