Lung Removal Won’t Hinder New Pope, Doctors Say

Thursday, 14 Mar 2013 09:32 AM

By Charlotte Libov

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Pope Francis begins his papacy in apparent good health, but the 76-year-old Catholic leader has one unusual medical condition: He has just one lung.

As a teenager, one of his lungs was removed because of an infection. But top specialists tell Newsmax Health that his condition likely will not hinder him as pope.

“God creates us with a whole lot of lung function, thank goodness, because this allows us to develop chronic lung disease and even have one removed, and you can still live a normal life without restrictions,” said Daniel Dilling, M.D., lung transplantation specialist at Loyola University Medical Center.

“You can do very well with one lung. You’re not going to compete in the Olympics, but you can live a fairly normal life,” agreed William Randall, M.D., pulmonary specialist with Mercy Medical Center’s Lutherville Personal Physician’s Group in Baltimore, Md.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, may have a slightly higher risk of respiratory infections, but he should be able to walk and exert himself as much as any other 76-year-old, say experts.

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Details about the new pope’s long-ago surgery have not been released, but the procedure, known as a “pnemonectomy,” is uncommon and usually performed on adults to rid them of lung cancer.

Dr. Dilling speculates that pontiff’s lung was most likely removed due to bronchietasis. This is a medical condition in which the large airways of the lung are permanently damaged due to repeated infections.

“If the infection was localized in the one lung, then the person can do OK with just the other lung. This is especially true if you lose that lung at a young age, because the other lung tends to compensate for it,” Dr. Randall said.

The new pope “will have to be more careful” than other people and try to avoid people who are ill so he doesn’t contract any respiratory ailments or pneumonia, said Dr. Randall. “He’s 76 years old, and he’s gone this far so he can probably go another 10 years at least.”

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