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Pope Francis undergoes successful three-hour surgery for hernia

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Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, looks at Dr Sergio Alfieri, a chief surgeon at Rome’s Gemelli’s hospital, who operated on Pope Francis June 7, 2023. (CNS screengrab/Courtesy Vatican Media)

Pope Francis was conscious and alert after a three-hour abdominal surgery that was performed “without complications” to treat a hernia, the Vatican said.

The 86-year-old pope was taken to Rome’s Gemelli hospital shortly after his general audience on 7 June. He was put under general anesthesia and underwent abdominal surgery to treat a hernia that developed at the site of abdominal incisions from previous operations, Dr Sergio Alfieri, the chief surgeon operating on the pope, said at a news conference at the hospital following the operation.

Speaking to journalists after the surgery, Dr Alfieri said Pope Francis had a number of internal scars and adhesions from two operations many years ago, possibly in Argentina; one was to treat peritonitis—inflammation of abdominal tissue—caused by an infected gallbladder and another to treat hydatid disease caused by cysts containing a parasite.

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It was this last operation that had left behind scars in the pope’s abdominal tissue where another hernia had developed.

Dr Alfieri said that during the three-hour operation adhesions were found between the intestine and the membrane that lines the abdomen, that for months caused an “aggravating, painful” intestinal blockage.

The adhesions were freed during the surgery and the opening in the abdomen’s wall that led to the hernia was repaired with prosthetic mesh.

Dr Alfieri, who also operated on the pope in 2021, said the pope had no complications and responded well to the general anesthesia he was administered during this surgery and the one in 2021 that removed part of his colon.

The chief surgeon underscored that, in both operations, all affected tissue had been benign.

“The pope does not have other illnesses,” he said.

Alfieri explained that while the medical team that follows the pope had been discussing the scheduled operation for several days, the final decision to operate was not taken until 6 June, when Pope Francis briefly visited the hospital for a medical checkup and tests.

“It was not urgent,” he said, “or else we would have operated on him then.”

Before going to the hospital the pope seemed well and in good spirits, holding his general audience as usual, riding in the popemobile, blessing babies, walking with a cane and meeting special guests afterward. He had held two private meetings before the general audience in St Peter’s Square.

Vatican News reported he arrived at the Gemelli hospital around 11:30 am local time in the compact Fiat 500 he often rides in. The windows of the papal suite on the 10th floor of the hospital were opened just after 6 pm.

Dr Alfieri noted that shortly after the surgery Pope Francis was already working and making jokes, and had asked the surgeon in jest about his next surgery: “When are we doing the third?

While Alfieri said recovery for this operation typically lasts about seven days. Vatican News reported that the pope’s audiences have been canceled until 18 June as a “precaution.”

Pope Francis was scheduled to meet with 29 Nobel Peace Prize winners at the Vatican on 10 June for an event to celebrate human fraternity. Before going to the hospital, the pope encouraged its organisers to continue with the event as planned, a statement from the foundation organising the event said.

This was Pope Francis’ third hospitalisation at the Gemelli hospital, the most recent was from 29 March to 1 April when he was admitted for an acute respiratory infection.

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