Pope Francis undergoes successful colon surgery

(Updates pope’s condition following surgery)

The Vatican, Jul 4 (EFE).- Pope Francis on Sunday successfully underwent intestinal surgery at the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic hospital in Rome, where he had been admitted earlier in the afternoon, the Vatican said.

“His Holiness responded well to the surgery performed under general anesthesia,” said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni in a statement released by the Holy See.

The surgery, which had been scheduled to deal with “symptomatic diverticular stenosis” of the large intestine – that is, a narrowing of the colon due to diverticulitis – was performed by Dr. Sergio Alfieri, although further details are not yet available, including how long the operation took.

The Vatican also has not announced how long the pontiff will remain under observation, although local media, citing hospital sources, reported that he should remain hospitalized for five days.

In the terse official announcement, besides Alfieri, the names of eight other doctors who were present during the surgery were mentioned, including the pope’s personal physician, Dr. Roberto Bernabei.

Just a few hours prior to the operation, the first that Francis has undergone since being elected pope, the pontiff presided at the Sunday Angelus noon prayer and announced to the faithful gathered on St. Peter’s Square that he would make a visit to Hungary and Slovakia on Sept. 12-15.

“This afternoon His Holiness Pope Francis went to the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome where he will undergo a scheduled surgery for a symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon,” said Bruni in a statement earlier on Sunday in announcing the surprise operation shortly after 3 pm Rome time.

Pope Francis had been admitted to the hospital anonymously two hours earlier accompanied only by a driver and by one of his closest aides so that his presence at the medical center would pass unnoticed by all but those immediately involved in his admission and treatment, hospital sources cited by local media said.

The pope was taken to the 10th floor of the hospital, the same area where in the past the late Pope John Paul II had been treated, the sources said.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella was the first official to send a get-well message to Francis.

“Speaking on behalf of all Italians and of myself, we wish to send to Your Holiness our warm regards and the most cordial wishes for a good convalescence and speedy recovery,” Mattarella said in the statement.

The announcement of the operation sparked surprise since it had not been known that Francis would be undergoing an operation in early July, when the pontiff generally reduces his public activities to a minimum to take a rest and only continues to be present at the Sunday Angelus Prayer.

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons says that symptomatic diverticular stenosis is a “common condition that involves small bulges or sacs called diverticula that form from the wall of the large intestine.”

The aim of this kind of surgery is to reduce problems caused by diverticulitis, which can cause hemorrhaging, inflammation and other complications such as obstruction or perforation of the intestinal tract.

Diverticulitis is very common in Western society and affects some 65 percent of the population age 85 and older, according to medical sources.

In recent years, Francis has suffered from several attacks of “painful sciatica” that have forced him to postpone certain activities but any additional health problems – other than ones he had spoken about himself in the past – have not been publicly known.

Pope Francis has said that in 1957 at age 21 he almost died when he had to have part of his right lung removed due to the development of several cysts and developed severe pneumonia.

He has also mentioned experiencing a heart problem in 2004 and being diagnosed with a fatty liver, which he overcame with a special diet that also helped him lose some weight.

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