London, March 14 (AP): The new Pope has daunting challenges ahead ranging from the church sex abuse scandal to reinvigorating the flock.
And the 76-year-old Francis will have to do it all with just one whole lung. The Argentine pontiff underwent surgery as a young man to remove “a good part” of an infected lung, according to his authorised biographer, Sergio Rubin. “He feels it today,” says Rubin. “He’s a little bit slowed by it, but he’s OK.”
Doctors said that losing part of a lung doesn’t necessarily compromise the pope’s health or reduce his life span, though it means no strenuous exercise since he no longer has as much air capacity as people with two lungs. “He probably wouldn’t be able to run marathons, but I don’t think that would be on his schedule,” said Dr Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London. “Having one lung should be enough as long as there is no other disease in that lung.”
It was initially reported that Francis lost an entire lung, but the Vatican said today that he had only lost part of one. It provided no further details. Openshaw said Francis’s whole lung would probably have expanded to fill the space left by the partial one, and that his rib cage would have shrunk slightly in size. His diaphragm may also have moved up slightly higher than normal. But none of those changes should affect Francis’ normal activities, he said. He said the Pope’s full lung should be able to compensate for the partial one, similar to how parts of the brain may pick up functions of other regions damaged by a stroke.
“The other lung can gain capacity but there will be limits,” he said, comparing it to a car engine that now runs slightly slower. “You may not be able to accelerate as hard but it still works just as well.” Experts said it would be rare nowadays to remove or cut away part of a lung. Antibiotics would be used to treat most lung infections including tuberculosis, though part of the organ might be removed to treat advanced lung cancer.