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Gerard O’ConnellJune 07, 2023
Dr. Sergio Alfieri, a chief surgeon at Rome's Gemelli's hospital, who operated on Pope Francis June 7, 2023, speaks to reporters at the hospital as seen in this screengrab of the news conference broadcast live by Vatican Media. He said the pope was recoverying well from a three-hour surgery for a hernia. (CNS screengrab/Courtesy Vatican Media)

“Pope Francis is alert and conscious and [sends] thanks for the many messages of closeness and prayers that have reached him immediately,” Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the surgeon who carried out the operation said at a press conference at the Gemelli Hospital in Rome on the evening of June 7.

Dr. Alfieri was the head of a team of 12 doctors, including anesthetists, which conducted the operation on the 86-year-old pontiff; he was the same doctor who performed the operation on the pope on July 4, 2021. He said the pope joked with him after waking up from the anesthesia, saying, “When will we do a third one?”

Dr. Alfieri spoke to journalists soon after the pope had recovered from the three-hour operation that involved “a laparotomy and plastic surgery for the abdominal wall with prosthesis” and was carried out under a general anesthesia.

Dr. Alfieri was the head of a team of 12 doctors, including anesthetists, which conducted the operation on the 86-year-old pontiff.

He revealed that the decision to operate was taken yesterday with the pope, after Francis underwent a CAT scan at the Gemelli Hospital, but it was not urgent: “otherwise we would have operated yesterday.” He suggested that the pope wanted to have the operation now because he has a heavy program ahead of him, including World Youth Day in Lisbon in August, and he wanted to have time to recover by then.

Dr. Alfieri said they dealt with an “incisional hernia” that corresponded to scars from earlier operations that the pope had undergone in past years, not only on July 4, 2021, but also back in Argentina, where he was operated for peritonitis. He said the hernia “had caused the pope a syndrome of increasing and painful intestinal blockage over the past months.”

During the operation they discovered some “tenacious” scars or adherences from the original operations within the intestine and these had to be cleared away. The doctor said he then “proceeded to free” the pope “from these internal scars, removing all the mass that was there.” Next, he moved “to repair the hernial defect” by means of plastic on the wall of the abdomen with the assistance of a prosthetic net.

He said the operation and the general anesthesia were done “without complications” and added that “the pope reacted well to the surgical operation.”

Dr. Alfieri said the pope would remain in hospital for several days, as the Vatican had stated. “It’s a surgery that normally requires 5 to 7 days of hospitalization” but, he added, since the pope is 86 and has already had four surgical operations and was in hospital some months ago with pneumonia, it could take longer.

He also sought to counteract false rumors regarding the pope’s health after the July 4, 2021, operation on his colon. He said that was “a benign pathology” and “no other pathologies were found, there are no concerns [from that].” He stated clearly, “the pope has no other infirmities.”

Asked about the pope’s aversion to general anesthesia, Dr. Alfieri said: “the pope had no problem with the general anesthesia neither today, nor two years ago.” But he added, “no one likes to be put to sleep in a total way.”

He concluded by thanking all the hospital staff involved in ensuring that all went well for the operation on the pope.

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