- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

ROME (Agence France-Presse) Pope John Paul II could shortly undergo an operation on his arthritic right knee, a problem that has left him increasingly immobilized, his surgeon, Alfredo Carfagni, said yesterday.
"We are on red alert, but we don't yet have a definitive confirmation from the Vatican, which has confirmed and changed its mind several times," Mr. Carfagni, a surgeon at the San Carlo hospital in Rome, said in an interview.
His revelations follow Holy Week ceremonies that have raised renewed questions about the health of the pontiff, who turns 82 in May.
An increasingly immobilized pope sharply curtailed his participation in several of the ceremonies during the most solemn week in the Christian calendar.
For the first time in his 23-year papacy, he sat out Palm Sunday Mass, was unable to take any active part in the traditional washing of feet of priests on Holy Thursday and did not walk with the cross during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday.
His near exhaustion at the end of the lengthy Good Friday ceremonies in particular showed the toll his duties have taken on an increasingly frail body, wracked by Parkinson's disease and arthritis.
While the worst effects of the Parkinson's can be kept at bay by medication, the knee problem is operable, and Mr. Carfagni said surgery posed no particular risks to the pontiff.
"He is very robust, much more solid than you would think," he said. "Today, one can operate on his knee problems even on very old people. They have operated on 102-year-old patients."
The surgeon said that while it was still too early to confirm, the pope may be fitted with an artificial knee.
"I can't yet tell you what kind of an operation it's going to be. We have to see the situation with the knee. But we can think about a prosthesis," he said.
The Rome daily Il Messaggero speculated that the pope may opt to have the operation in the next few days.


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