POPE-CONDITION (UPDATED) Mar-30-2005 (860 words)
Backgrounder. xxxi

News of feeding tube complicates health of
already-disabled pope

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The news that Pope John Paul II
was being fed through a nasal tube added another
health complication to a pontiff already burdened by
illness and disability.

The pope, who cannot walk, can barely speak, and who
needs a tube in his throat to breathe, now has
problems with nutrition, too. Like most of his
problems, the breakdown in normal nutritional function
is a typical symptom of Parkinson's disease.

The latest medical developments, along with the pope's
poignant and abbreviated Holy Week appearances, left
many people worried about his long-term health and
wondering about his future schedule.

After the pope was unable to pronounce even an Easter
blessing to a crowd of 70,000 in St. Peter's Square,
newspapers around the world expressed alarm and said
it was clear the pope's recovery from a tracheotomy
was not going well.

"The Excruciating Appearance of the Pope" read the
headline March 28 in the French newspaper Le Figaro.
"The End of a Pontificate" said the Internet edition
of the German paper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Italian newspapers were reporting rumors that the
84-year-old pope would be taken again to Rome's
Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic, where he had the
operation in late February to insert a tube in his
throat after a breathing crisis.

But the feeding tube was inserted in a procedure at
the Vatican March 30. In announcing it, the Vatican
described the pope's recovery as "slow and
progressive." Although the pontiff made a brief window
appearance the same day, the Vatican said his regular
audiences were suspended indefinitely.

Several medical specialists in Rome said recent
developments were not necessarily cause for alarm
about the pope's condition.

Dr. Gianfranco Cappello, a professor on the surgery
faculty at Rome's La Sapienza University and a
specialist in tube feeding, said many of his patients
are nourished through nasogastric tubes for years. The
tube generally remains in place but is not
particularly bothersome, he told Catholic News Service
March 30.

The pope's own personal physician, Dr. Renato
Buzzonetti, said March 28 that he and other doctors
were "reasonably calm about the postoperative progress
of the pope." 

Dr. Fabrizio Stocchi, a neurological expert in Rome
whom the Vatican has consulted in the past, said
people's expectations about the pope's recovery may
have been too high.

"Considering the pope's age, his health history and
the surgery he's had, I think his recovery so far
could even be called a success," Stocchi told Catholic
News Service March 29.

"People may have to realize that, while he may have
better days and worse days, this is the pope we will
have: one who cannot talk much if at all, and one who
is able to do much less than before," he said.

Many viewers were alarmed not only by the pope's
inability to speak, but also by his uncontrolled
facial expressions during the 12 minutes he appeared
at his apartment window on Easter. At times, his face
wrenched in what looked to be grimaces of pain.

Stocchi said that paradoxically that may have been a
good sign.

"These involuntary movements are called dyskinesias,
and they are a side effect of the drug levodopa, which
is used to treat Parkinson's patients. At least it
means the levodopa is working, which is important,"
Stocchi said.

Stocchi, a professor of neurology at the Institute of
Neurological Research at Rome's Sapienza University,
is considered one of Italy's best experts on
Parkinson's disease. The pope is believed to suffer
from the disease.

Others pointed out that the pope appeared alert
throughout the Easter appearance, following with
attention the printed text of the message read in his
name by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of

"The pope is absolutely lucid," Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger, head of the doctrinal congregation, said on
Italy's RAI television March 25. "His mind is alive
and he has a sense of judgment that is perhaps
stronger -- the capacity to choose the essential and
to govern, while suffering, with few but essential

The small number of events already on the pope's
calendar has been placed in doubt by his condition. He
was to make an official visit April 29 to the Italian
president, but that may be put off indefinitely,
Italian media reported.

The Diocese of Rome has announced a Mass with the
ordination of priests in St. Peter's Basilica April
17, an event usually presided over by the pope. On
April 24, a Mass to beatify seven people will be
celebrated at the Vatican; although the pope has
presided over previous beatification liturgies, it is
not necessary for him to be present.

Groups of Spanish bishops are continuing to make their
"ad limina" visits to the Vatican, but without seeing
the pontiff. Ambassadors, visiting dignitaries and
heads of state have been meeting with Cardinal Sodano
instead of the pope, and that is unlikely to change in
the near future.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Rome.


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