Pontiff breathes with aid of tube

Posted 2/24/2005 5:37 AM

By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY

    VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II underwent an emergency tracheotomy to help
    him breathe Thursday after a relapse of flu-like symptoms that put him in the hospital for
    nine days this month, the Vatican said.

    Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the operation was completed in "a
    positive way." He described the 84-year-old pontiff's condition as "regular." Navarro-Valls
    said the pope would remain overnight at Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome in his own room,
    implying that he was not in intensive care.

    The spokesman said the pope had consented to undergo the 30-minute procedure, in
    which a hole is made in the throat and a tube inserted to assist breathing. He was taken
    to the hospital by ambulance.

    Gianni Letta, an aide to Italian Prime
    Minister Silvio Berlusconi, told reporters
    at the hospital that he had met the pope,
    who appeared well. After the operation,
    John Paul raised his hand and
    attempted to speak with doctors but was
    told not to try, Letta said.

"I entered Gemelli very somber and sad, and I leave very satisfied," Letta said.

President Bush said in a statement, "On behalf of all Americans, Laura and I send
our heartfelt best wishes to Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father is in our thoughts
and prayers, and we wish him a speedy recovery and return to the service of his
church and of all humanity."

The pope was hospitalized Feb. 1-10 because of acute respiratory problems from
what the Vatican has described as a "syndrome of influenza."

Until Thursday, the pontiff's health and activity level appeared to be returning to
normal. But Navarro-Valls said a relapse required his hospitalization for "necessary
specialized assistance and further tests." The pope also has Parkinson's disease
and arthritis.

After his release from the hospital on Feb. 10, the pope appeared stronger at each
public appearance. But Wednesday, he made a "virtual" appearance via TV link
from his private study.

Church officials urged the faithful to pray for the leader of the world's 1 billion Roman
Catholics for 26 years. "I call on all the dioceses of Rome to gather in prayer for our
most loved bishop and the father of the faith," said Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

The pope's hospitalization revives concern that the pope's tenure could be nearing
an end. As for whether the pope might resign, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's
secretary of state, said any decision to step down was up to the pope's "conscience."

Contributing: Wire reports
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Pope John Paul II gives a blessing during his
weekly public audience held by video link from
his private study Wednesday.  Getty Images
The Pope's health troubles   

Dates of injuries, illnesses and hospital stays of
Pope John Paul II:

Feb. 24, 2005: Pope hospitalized at Rome's Gemelli
Polyclinic hospital after suffering relapse of flu.

Feb. 10, 2005: Pope discharged from hospital.

Feb. 1, 2005: Pope rushed to hospital with breathing
difficulties and inflamed throat while battling the flu.

Jan. 31, 2005: Vatican announces pope has "mild"
case of flu, forcing cancellation of appearances.

Sept. 24, 2003: Pope skips weekly general audience
due to an intestinal problem.

June 15, 1999: Flu, with slight fever, keeps pope
from celebrating Mass in Krakow, Poland, for 1 million
people during pilgrimage.

February 1997: Pope cancels general audience
because of flu with fever.

Oct. 8, 1996: Pope hospitalized for operation to
remove an inflamed appendix.

Aug. 15, 1996: Pope cancels general audience
because of what Vatican calls an intestinal ailment
accompanied by fever.

March 13, 1996: Pope cancels Mass after Vatican
says he is stricken by a similar ailment.

Dec. 25, 1995: Overcome by fever and nausea, Pope
interrupts Christmas message in St. Peter's Square
and is bedridden with flu.