ROME – After Pope Francis surgery for an abdominal hernia in the mid-afternoon on Wednesday, the surgeon who performed the operation said the pope is doing well and is alert, and is expected to continue his usual routine after his recovery.
Speaking to journalists from Rome’s Gemelli hospital shortly after the surgery concluded, Doctor Sergio Alfieri said that “the Holy Father is well. He’s awake and alert, and he already made his first joke 10 minutes ago.” He also said the pope was already “at work.”
An expert in general surgery at the Department of Abdominal and Endocrine Metabolic Medical and Surgical Sciences at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital, Alfieri also performed Francis’s colon surgey in July 2021.
Alfieri said the typical recovery time after an operation like the one the pope had Wednesday is 5-7 days, though given Pope Francis’s history – he’s 86 and has had four previous surgeries as well as a brief hospital stay for bronchitis earlier this year – it could be longer, perhaps around 10 days, depending on his recovery.
At 6:30p.m. local, the Vatican sent a statement saying the pope’s surgery had finished and that “it was carried out without complications and had a duration of three hours.”
Pope Francis visited the Gemelli hospital Tuesday for a checkup and some testing, after which it was determined that he was suffering from an abdominal hernia and that surgery should be performed right away.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope was scheduled to undergo surgery for “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.
“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.”
Alfieri said the hernia was not related to the pope’s colon surgery in 2021, but rather to a previous surgery Francis underwent while still in Argentina. He said Pope Francis has so far undergone four surgeries.
In regard to the pope’s current condition, medical sources have said 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.
Alfieri in his remarks said the pope had for some time been complaining of abdominal pain, but that his discomfort had become more frequent, which prompted the testing and led to the decision to operate.
He said the issue was resolved and that the pope “responded well to the surgery and to the anesthesia.”
Asked about past remarks from the pope in which he said he was hesitant to undergo knee surgery due to a bad reaction to the anesthesia during his 2021 colon surgery, Alfieri stressed that “the Holy Father never had any issue of anesthesia, not two years ago and not now.”
“Obviously no one likes to be operated on, no one likes to be unconscious,” he said, but insisted that there was no problem or poor reaction.
Alfieri also clarified that the pope’s colon condition in 2021, known as “stenotic diverticulitis,” meaning a restriction of the colon with possible inflammation or infection of pouches inside the walls of the large intestine, has been completely resolved and that the pope “is cured.”
“No other pathologies were found, he doesn’t have any other illness,” he said, saying the pope after waking up jested with him, “when are we doing the third?” meaning the third operation, as Alfieri has already performed two on the pontiff.
In terms of his future activities, Alfieri said that “Once he is healed from the surgery, he will be able to continue what he has done. I said to him he can’t exert himself lifting weights – but he looked at me as if to say, I’m the pope I don’t lift weights!”
Bruni, who was present at Gemelli Hospital for the briefing, said that as a precaution all of the pope’s public and private audiences have been cancelled through June 18, but that everything after that remains on his schedule.
Pope Francis is currently slated to make two international trips in August, traveling to Lisbon from Aug. 2-6 for the International World Youth Day event, and then to Mongolia from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.
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