March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Francis, who had part of a lung removed at age 21 because of illness, probably won’t be physically restricted in any way as a result.
The only threat the 76-year-old pontiff might face from his diminished lung capacity is from pneumonia, which can be caused by common bacteria and viruses in the environment, said Blair Marshall, chief of thoracic surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.
The amount of lung function at birth well exceeds what the average person needs, Marshall said. Recent scientific reports suggest the lung is able to partially regenerate when it is damaged at an early age. The new pope’s lung issue shouldn’t restrict his travel schedule or his ability to perform the high- stress role of leading the church, she said.
“He’s had several decades to adjust to this and his other lung has taken over,” Marshall said in a telephone interview. “He’s been functioning well for decades and should have no limitations. The only risk would be if he gets pneumonia.”
Today, lung infections are almost never treated with surgery. In the mid-1950s, however, doctors didn’t have widespread access to antibiotics that are available now, and thus removing the lung was often the best option. While no specific cause has been given for the pope’s lung removal, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio may have had tuberculosis or necrotizing pneumonia, where bacteria destroys the lung tissue, Marshall said.
Pope Francis was born on Dec. 17, 1936, in Buenos Aires, one of five children of an Italian immigrant father who worked on the railways. Bergoglio trained as a chemist before being ordained a priest in 1969. He had part of one lung removed after developing an illness at about age 21 and has remained in good health since then, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said today at a press briefing.
--With assistance from Jeffrey Donovan in Prague. Editors: Reg Gale, Bruce Rule