Pope Francis was in “good general condition” Thursday, alert and breathing on his own following a three-hour operation to remove intestinal scar tissue and repair a hernia in his abdominal wall, the Vatican said.
The 86-year-old Francis rested “extensively” during a peaceful night and was spending his first day after the surgery observing the “necessary post-operative rest,” the Vatican said in a statement.
“The pope is informed of the messages of closeness and affection that have come in the last few hours and expresses his gratitude, while asking for continued prayers for him,” the statement said.
Francis was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital Wednesday for his second major abdominal operation in two years, following a 2021 procedure to remove part of his colon. Doctors revealed that in addition to that 2021 operation, Francis had undergone previous abdominal surgeries sometime before 2013 in his native Argentina, which had also caused intestinal scarring.
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During the operation Wednesday, doctors removed adhesions, or internal scarring, on the intestine that had caused a partial blockage. To repair a hernia that had formed over a previous scar, a prosthetic mesh was also placed in the abdominal wall.
Dr. Sergio Alfieri, director of abdominal and endocrine sciences who performed the surgery, said the operation was a success and that Francis was suffering from no other pathologies, that the tissue removed was benign and that after he recovers, he should be fine.
A feared protrusion, or bulging of the intestine through the hernia tear, was apparently not found.
Alfieri, who also removed part of Francis’ colon in 2021, told an evening press conference that the pope was awake, alert and even joking.
“When will we do the third one?” he quoted Francis as saying.
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The pontiff was expected to remain in the 10th floor papal suite at Gemelli for several days, and all papal audiences were canceled through June 18.
The operation was scheduled after Francis had complained about increasing bouts of pain and intestinal blockages. After going to Gemelli on Tuesday for checks, Francis was admitted Wednesday following his general audience and underwent the procedure a short time later.
The surgery was likely scheduled now to give Francis plenty of time to recover before embarking on planned travel later this summer: an Aug. 2-6 trip to Portugal for World Youth Day, and an Aug. 31-Sept. 4 trip to Mongolia and a Sept. 23 day trip to Marseille, France.
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“It appears they operated on him in a timely fashion with no compromise to his intestine,” said Dr. Walter Longo, chief of colon and rectal surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, who did not participate in the surgery and commented after consulting the Vatican statement on the procedure.
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Francis remained in charge of the Vatican and the 1.3-billion strong Catholic Church, even while unconscious and in the hospital, according to canon law.
In July 2021, Francis spent 10 days at Gemelli to remove 33 centimetres (13 inches) of his large intestine. In an interview with The Associated Press in January, Francis said the diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, that prompted that surgery had returned.
After that surgery, Francis lamented that he hadn’t responded well to the general anesthetic. That reaction in part explained his refusal to have surgery to repair strained knee ligaments that have forced him to use a wheelchair and walker for over a year.
However, Alfieri said Francis had no clinically adverse reactions to the anesthesia in 2021 or Wednesday.
“Clearly no one likes to be operated on and put to sleep because the moment we’re put under, we lose consciousness,” he said. “But there was no physiological problem two years ago or today.”
Dr. Manish Chand, a professor of surgery at University College London who specializes in colorectal surgery, said the greatest issue going forward will be pain management and making sure the wound heals properly.
“In the first six weeks after this type of surgery, you’re at risk of getting a recurrence again,” he said. To avoid that, patients are advised not to do anything strenuous.
© 2023 The Canadian Press
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