ROME (AP) — Pope Francis successfully underwent surgery Wednesday to remove intestinal scar tissue and repair a hernia in his abdominal wall. The 86-year-old pope had part of his colon removed two years ago.
The Vatican said there were no complications during the three-hour operation, which required Francis to be under general anesthesia. The pontiff was expected to stay at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital for several days, and all papal visits were canceled until June 18.
Gemelli’s Director of Stomach and Endocrine Sciences Dr. Sergio Alfieri said the operation was successful, the Pope was awake, alert, even joking.
“When do we do the third one?” He quoted Francis as saying.
During the operation, doctors removed adhesions or internal scarring in the intestine, which had caused a partial blockage and pain in recent months. Alfiri revealed that Francis underwent previously undisclosed abdominal surgeries in Argentina prior to 2013, which also resulted in scarring.
An artificial mesh was placed in the abdominal wall to repair a hernia that had formed over a previous scar, Alfiri said. He said the Pope was not suffering from any other illness, the tissue removed was benign, and after his recovery, he should be fine.
Hernia surgeries are rarely performed on an emergency basis, Alpieri said, and the surgery is planned. While not publicly announced, it appeared the timing would give Francis enough time to recuperate ahead of a busy travel schedule later this summer.
At three hours, doctors say Pope’s procedure was significantly longer than the 60 to 90 minutes it usually takes for hernia surgery, but Alfieri noted that the scar tissue from the previous surgery was completely removed.
Spending too much time under anesthesia, being on a ventilator for long periods of time — someone who lost part of a lung as a teenager — could cause the pope to have breathing problems or a longer-than-expected recovery time.
Francis continued to take charge Even when the Vatican and the 1.3 billion strong Catholic Church are unconscious and in hospital, according to canon law.
In July 2021, Francis spent 10 days in Gemelli to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine. In an interview with The Associated Press In January, Francis developed diverticulosis, or inflammation of his intestinal wall, prompting a return to surgery.
After the surgery, Francis lamented that he did not respond well to the general anesthesia that was used for longer than expected. That reaction partly explained his refusal to undergo surgery to repair knee ligaments that forced him to use a wheelchair and walker for more than a year.
However, Alfieri said Francis had no adverse reactions to anesthesia in 2021 or Wednesday.
“Obviously nobody likes to be asleep after surgery, because the moment we’re pushed down, we lose consciousness,” he told a Vatican spokesman at an evening news conference at the hospital. “But there were no physiological problems two years ago or today.”
Dr Manish Chand, a professor of surgery at University College London who specializes in colon surgery, said the operation itself is usually straightforward – but it does require general anaesthetic. He said the biggest issue after that would be managing the pain and making sure the wound heals properly.
“In the first six weeks after this type of surgery, you’re at risk of recurrence,” he said. To avoid it, patients are advised not to do anything strenuous.
Dr Robin Phillips, a specialist professor of colorectal surgery at Imperial College London, points out that abdominal surgery can also compromise lung function.
The Argentine pope had part of a lung removed when he was a teenager. At the end of March, Francis spent three days in Gemelli for bronchitis and treated with intravenous antibiotics. He was “still alive!” on April 1.
“I doubt they’re doing it now because it could become more complicated and lead to emergency surgery, which would be a bigger risk than leaving it alone or operating now,” Phillips said.
After celebrating his weekly public audience on Wednesday, the pope was driven out of the Vatican shortly after 11 a.m. in his Fiat 500 and arrived in Gemelli 20 minutes later, escorted by police.
“The stay in the health facility will last several days to allow for normal postoperative training and full functional recovery,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The pope appeared in fine form Wednesday morning to his audience in St. Peter’s Square, zipping around the square in his popemobile to greet the faithful. The Vatican said he had previously held two meetings.
With many visitors each day, Francis had a packed schedule. While the Holy See and Italy are usually on holiday, the Vatican recently confirmed a travel-filled August with a four-day visit to Portugal in the first week of August and a similarly long trip to Mongolia from August 31.
In a sign that the trips are still continuing, the Vatican on Tuesday released the planned itinerary for Francis’ visit to Portugal from August 2 to August 6 for World Youth Day events. A busy schedule includes all of the official state of the art meetings. Many events with the youth and a day trip to the Marian Shrine in Fatima.
Cheng reported from London.