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One lung not seen as detriment to Pope Francis I

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Francis, the new pope, only has one lung. One of his lungs was removed at the age of 20 on account of illness. This condition is not believed to hinder any of his duties of the church, medical authorities believe, as long as he takes steps from contracting pneumonia.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Blair Marshall, chief of thoracic surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington says that the only threat the 76-year-old pontiff might face is from pneumonia.

The amount of lung function at birth well exceeds what the average person needs, Marshall says. Recent scientific reports suggest the lung is able to partially regenerate when it's damaged at an early age. Marshall says that 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.

"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."

Lung infections today 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.

There has been no specific reason given for the pope's partial lung removal. The young Jorge Mario Bergoglio may have had tuberculosis or necrotizing pneumonia, where a bacterium destroys the lung tissue, Marshall said.

In some cases, a chronic illness may trigger so much inflammation that antibiotics traveling through the bloodstream can't reach the site of the infection.

A pulmonologist and co-director of the Cleveland Clinic Asthma Center in Ohio Sumita Khatri says that the damaged portion may be removed to stop the disease from spreading.

"This must have been a very difficult infection and he wasn't responding to treatment," she said in a telephone interview. "He was young and I expect rather healthy. It seems like by removing this infection, anything that could have become a chronic problem may very well have been cured and poses no risk to him now."

The fact that only part of a lung was taken out, rather than the entire organ as earlier reports suggested, is even more reassuring, Khatri said.

Losing just a portion of one lung shouldn't carry any restrictions. "A whole lot of people get a portion of their lung removed and do just fine," she said. "His experience for the past 50 years more than tells us that he has lung enough for the job."

The new pope hasn't limited his exposure to the infirm. Before Easter in 1999, Bergoglio washed the feet of 12 AIDS patients in a local hospital. The next year he washed the feet of 12 prison inmates. He has done the same thing every year since, with members of different social groupings.

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