Pope had severe narrowing of the colon, recovery continues

Jul 7, 2021, 3:09 AM | Updated: 9:08 pm

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis’ recovery from intestinal surgery continues to be “regular and satisfactory,” the Vatican said Wednesday, as it revealed that final examinations showed he had suffered a “severe” narrowing of his colon.

The Vatican’s daily update indicated there was no evidence of cancer detected during an examination of the tissue removed Sunday from Francis’ colon. Doctors said that was a good sign and evidence that the suspected condition of a narrowing of the colon due to inflammation and scarring had been confirmed.

The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said the 84-year-old pope was continuing to eat regularly following Sunday’s surgery to remove half his colon, and that intravenous therapy had been suspended.

“The fact that he is eating means his intestinal tract is working as it should,” said Dr. Walter E. Longo, professor of surgery and colon and rectal surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine and Yale-New Haven Health, who was not involved in Francis’ care. “The fact that infusion therapy has been discontinued means the amount of fluid he needs for sustaining his everyday functions is now being met by his oral intake.”

Bruni said final examination of the affected tissue “confirmed a severe diverticular stenosis with signs of sclerosing diverticulitis,” or a hardening of the sacs that can sometimes form in the lining of the intestine.

Dr. Manish Chand, an associate professor of surgery at University College London who specializes in colorectal surgery, said the hardening of the tissue would have occurred as a result of repeat inflammation and infection, resulting in scarring that makes the colon less elastic.

He said there was always a concern in such cases that there may be a small cancer that hadn’t been seen in previous imaging. In such cases, pathologists would put a specimen of the removed tissue under a microscope to see if there were any cancer cells.

“It is reassuring to hear that there is no underlying tumor and that the diagnosis of diverticular disease is confirmed,” said Chand, who also was not involved in Francis’ care.

Francis underwent three hours of planned surgery Sunday. He is expected to stay in Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic, which has a special suite reserved for popes, through the week, assuming there are no complications, the Vatican has said.

Among those offering get-well wishes was U.S. President Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic who has cited Francis in the past. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a daily briefing Tuesday that the president “wishes him well and a speedy recovery.”

“Pope Francis is touched by the many messages and the affection received in these days, and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” Bruni’s statement said.

Francis has enjoyed relatively robust health, though he lost the upper part of one lung in his youth because of an infection. He also suffers from sciatica, or nerve pain, that makes him walk with a pronounced limp.

The Vatican has continued normal operations in his absence, though July is traditionally a month when the pope cancels public and private audiences. There was no weekly general audience on Wednesday, for example, but the monthlong suspension of the pope’s weekly catechism lessons had been previously announced.

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Pope had severe narrowing of the colon, recovery continues