World

Pope Francis undergoes surgery to repair hernia in abdominal wall

Pope Francis has undergone a hernia operation (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis has undergone a hernia operation (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Pope Francis has undergone a hernia operation (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis underwent surgery on Wednesday to repair a hernia in his abdominal wall, the latest malady to befall the 86-year-old pontiff who had part of his colon removed two years ago.

The Vatican said there were no complications after the three-hour surgery, during which Francis was under general anaesthesia.

The 86-year-old pontiff was expected to remain at Rome’s Gemelli hospital for several days. As a precaution, all papal audiences were cancelled until June 19, the Vatican said.

While hernia operations are rarely performed on an emergency basis, the procedure appeared somewhat urgent, scheduled just a day after Francis went to the hospital for tests.

The pontiff’s doctors no doubt also wanted to give him ample time for recovery ahead of a busy travel schedule later this summer.

The pope was suffering from a “painful and worsening” hernia that formed over a previous scar, presumably from his 2021 colon surgery.

Experts said the formation of the hernia, called a laparocele, is a known complication from intestinal surgery.

The concern is that a portion of his intestine may have bulged through the tear and become trapped.

Francis went to the hospital for previously unannounced tests on Tuesday, returned to the Vatican and presided over his audience on Wednesday morning, but then went straight to Gemelli for the procedure afterward.

“When the intestines are trapped, the blood supply to the bowel is compromised. And if you don’t take care of it, the bowel will die, and you will have gangrenous intestines,” said Dr Walter Longo, chief of colon and rectal surgery at Yale University School of Medicine.

He said Francis should be OK after a few weeks of recovery, but he noted that the aging pope is already frail.

“There’s the risk of going through surgery, operating on a fragile individual, but if he can get through it, he will be fine,” he said.

In July 2021, Francis spent 10 days at Gemelli to remove 33 centimetres (13 inches) of his large intestine. In an interview with the Associated Press in January, Francis said the diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, that prompted that surgery had returned.