ROME: Pope Francis underwent a three-hour operation in a Rome hospital on Wednesday to repair a hernia, which doctors said was successful enough that he should have no limitations on his travels and other activities after he recovers.
“He even joked with me about when we would do the third operation,” said chief surgeon Dr Sergio Alfieri, who carried out a first abdominal operation on Francis in 2021.
Alfieri, speaking to reporters at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, said no other ailments or pathologies were discovered during the operation.
The surgeon said the 86-year-old Francis had reacted well to general anaesthesia and that he expected the pope to be in hospital for about 5-7 days.
But he cautioned that while strong, the pope was elderly and recently had bronchitis so “we will take all necessary precautions” regarding the timing of the hospital stay.
Francis has two trips planned for this summer and Alfieri said he saw no medical reason why the pope would have to change his schedule.
His only caution to the pope was that he should not lift any heavy objects.
“He looked at me as if to say ‘I’m the pope. I don’t lift weights,'” Alfieri said.
Francis was taken to hospital after his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square, where he gave no sign that he was about to enter hospital for planned surgery.
The operation took place in the Catholic-run hospital a short drive away from the Vatican and which has a 10th-floor suite reserved for popes.
It is the third hospital stay for Francis since cardinals chose the Argentinian in 2013 as the first Latin American pope. It is the latest in a string of health problems in recent years.
Audiences cancelled until mid-June
The Vatican said all of the pope’s private and general audiences had been cancelled until June 18. In his 2021 stay there, however, Francis recited the traditional Sunday prayer from a hospital balcony.
A statement issued on Wednesday morning said the operation was necessary to repair a laparocele, a hernia that sometimes forms over a scar usually resulting from previous surgery. It is more common in older people and it can also be caused by obesity or weakness of the abdominal wall muscles.
Alfieri said the pope himself had decided on Tuesday to have the operation the next day after having a CAT scan at the same hospital.
The pope’s condition was causing painful, intestinal occlusions, Alfieri said, adding that it was getting “continuously worse”.
Francis underwent a laparotomy, or open abdominal surgery, and a prosthesis was used to reconstruct the abdominal wall.
In July 2021 he had part of his colon removed in an operation aimed at addressing a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis. He said earlier this year that the condition had returned and was affecting his weight.
Francis was treated for five days at the same hospital at the end of March with a lung infection and last month skipped audiences for a day due to a fever.
The pope often uses a wheelchair or a cane to walk because of persistent knee pain. Last year he didn’t want to have an operation on his knee because the general anaesthesia for his colon surgery had brought disagreeable side effects.
The Vatican announced plans on Saturday for him to visit Mongolia from Aug 31 – Sept 4, one of the more remote places he has travelled to.
Before that, he is due to visit Portugal from Aug 2-6 to attend the World Youth Day in Lisbon and visit the Shrine of Fatima. The Vatican on Tuesday released an official schedule for the trip, giving an indication it was confirmed.