Aide: Sen. Jesse Helms Hopes to Leave Hospital Next Week

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.