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Pope’s recovery proceeding normally, he is resting well, Vatican says

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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) -Pope Francis spent a restful first day after abdominal surgery and his post-operative recovery was proceeding as expected, with bloodwork and respiratory levels stable, the Vatican said on Thursday.

The 86-year-old pope is on a liquid diet and was well enough to receive communion and make a telephone call, said the statement, the second medical bulletin of the day.

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.

A statement on Thursday morning said Francis was in good general condition, alert and breathing spontaneously and that the results of routine tests were good.

He telephoned the mother of a boy he had baptised in the hospital’s children’s ward last year to thank her for a get-well poster the family had sent him, the Vatican said.

Doctor Sergio Alfieri, the chief surgeon who operated on the pope at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, said on Wednesday that Francis had reacted well to general anaesthesia and that he expected the pontiff to be in hospital for about five to seven days.

But, speaking to reporters after the surgery, Alfieri cautioned that while strong, the pope was elderly and recently had bronchitis so “we will take all necessary precautions” regarding the length of the hospital stay.

Francis has two trips planned for this summer, to Portugal Aug. 2-6 to attend the World Youth Day and visit the Shrine of Fatima, and to Mongolia Aug. 31-Sept. 4, one of the more remote places he has had on his travel schedule.

Alfieri said he saw no medical reason why the pope would have to change his schedule if the recovery went well, as the surgeon expected it to.

GENERIC RISKS REMAIN

Charles Maxwell-Armstrong, President of the Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland, told Reuters Television in London that while it “was not a small operation by any means” for a person of the pope’s age, he agreed that travel would be possible if Francis made a full recovery.

He said that while there were a “number of generic risks that apply to pretty much all patients” such as infection, stroke or heart attacks, “we would anticipate him making a full recovery, and the likelihood is that is exactly what he will do”.

The Vatican said all of the pope’s private and general audiences had been cancelled until June 18 as a precautionary measure.

In a 2021 stay at the same Catholic-run hospital, Francis recited the traditional Sunday prayer from a balcony on the 10th floor, which has a suite of rooms reserved only for popes.

Doctors have said this week’s operation was necessary to repair a laparocele, a hernia that sometimes forms over scars, usually resulting from previous surgeries. It is more common in older people and it can also be caused by being overweight or weakness of the abdominal wall muscles.

Alfieri said the pope’s condition was causing painful, intestinal occlusions that were becoming more frequent.

Francis underwent a laparotomy, or open abdominal surgery, and a mesh prosthesis was used to reconstruct the abdominal wall.

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.

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.

(Additional reporting by Aiden Nulty in London, Alvise Armellini, Federica Urso and Gianluca Semeraro in Italy, Editing by William Maclean and Rosalba O’Brien)

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