ROME – One day after visiting Rome’s Gemelli Hospital for what was described by the Vatican as a planned checkup, Pope Francis is scheduled to undergo surgery for what has been described as an “incisional hernia” and to remain there for “several days.”
Pope Francis presided over his Wednesday public general audience in St. Peter’s Square as usual, but reports that he was headed back to Gemelli began to circulate shortly after.
In a statement Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the news, saying, “The Holy Father at the end of the General Audience went to the University Polyclinic [Agostino] Gemelli.”
“In the early afternoon, he will undergo a surgical intervention of laparotomy on the abdominal wall, with implants, and using a general anesthetic,” Bruni said, saying the operation was “arranged in recent days by the medical team that’s assisting the Holy Father.”
Bruni said the surgery was deemed necessary due to “a lacerated incisional hernia which is causing recurrent, painful and worsening sub-occlusive syndromes,” meaning there is a hernia in the abdominal wall at the place of a previous surgical incision in which the intestine goes out and comes in, creating discomfort.
According to medical sources, an “occlusive blockage” constitutes a medical emergency, while a “sub-occlusive blockage” is when the same problem is on and off. In the pope’s case, this likely means the bowel protrudes out of the incision point from the original surgery, creating significant pain and a risk of perforation, and then returns into the abdominal cavity through the post-surgical hernia.
This condition can happen even many years after surgery, and the surgical method normally used to resolve the problem involves placing a net or mesh lining to close the gap when it’s too wide to be treated with stitches.
Francis is expected to stay at the Gemelli for “several days” following the surgery “to allow for the normal post-operative course and full functional recovery,” Bruni said, but did not specify how many days the pope was expected to be admitted.
The news comes a day after Pope Francis went to the Gemelli for what was touted by the Vatican and a planned checkup.
In a statement Tuesday, Bruni said, “This morning Pope Francis went to the Gemelli Hospital for some clinical tests and returned to the Vatican before midday.”
He made the announcement roughly five hours after rumors initially began to circulate in the Italian press, and around three hours after the pope had already left.
Francis arrived at the Gemelli’s Center for Medicine of the Aging at roughly 10:40a.m. Tuesday, where he reportedly underwent a nuclear medicine exam, which is used to ascertain information about the state of internal organs and tissues and left about an hour later.
Pope Francis underwent an invasive colon surgery at the Gemelli hospital in July 2021 for a condition known as “stenotic diverticulitis,” meaning a restriction of the colon with possible inflammation or infection of pouches inside the walls of the large intestine.
He was discharged after 10 days, but in an interview with the Associated Press in late January, the pope said his diverticulitis had “returned,” though he commented at the time that he was in good health for his age.
Wednesday’s surgery comes after several recent health scares.
Last month Pope Francis on a routine Friday cancelled his morning meetings and appointments due to what Bruni described as “a feverish state,” though no other information was provided.
He was hospitalized in late March with a respiratory infection which the Vatican later said was diagnosed as bronchitis, for which he received intravenous antibiotic treatment and was released after three days.
In addition to his colon surgery, Pope Francis had part of one lung removed after a severe bout of pneumonia as a young man. More recently, in 2019 he underwent ocular surgery at Rome’s Clinic of Pius XI to treat a cataract, and he’s also struggled with chronic sciatica pain.
For the past year he also experienced knee troubles that have largely confined him to the use of a cane or a wheelchair.
In an interview with Spanish daily ABC in December of last year, Francis said that he had already prepared a letter of resignation in the case of medical incapacity shortly after his election in 2013, and that it was given to then-Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
“I have already signed my resignation. It was when Tarcisio Bertone was Secretary of State. I signed the resignation and told him: ‘In case of a health impediment or whatever, here is my resignation. You have it.’ I don’t know who Cardinal Bertone gave it to, but I gave it to him when he was Secretary of State,” the pope said.
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