- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

ROME — Pope John Paul II’s condition stabilized yesterday, and he will undergo treatment for the flu “for another few days” after being rushed by ambulance to Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic fighting for breath, the Vatican said yesterday.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican chief spokesman, said 84-year-old pontiff’s heart and lungs were “within normal limits”

The pope had been driven to the hospital from the Vatican state under heavy escort on Tuesday night with complications that developed dramatically from flu, raising alarm among the world’s estimated 1 billion Roman Catholics.

The Holy See in the past has denied or played down the gravity of papal illnesses to avoid precipitating a power struggle among cardinals over the successor to St. Peter’s throne.

But Dr. Navarro-Valls, a Spanish medical school graduate who belongs to the conservative Opus Dei movement, insisted in remarks to a throng of reporters at the hospital that “there is no reason for alarm today” about Pope John Paul II’s illness.

He said the pope yesterday morning was celebrating Mass in his special room on the 10th floor of the hospital, where he has been treated several times for several ailments that periodically have marred his long papacy.

These have included wounds sustained from an assassination attempt by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot the pontiff in St. Peter’s Square in 1981. The pope had an operation to remove a tumor described as benign and “as big as an orange” from his stomach in 1992.

“The flu, which has been affecting the Holy Father for three days, was complicated with acute inflammation of the larynx and laryngo-spasm,” the chief spokesman said.

Dr. Navarro-Valls told Vatican Radio that the pope will stay at the Gemelli, which is part of Rome’s Catholic University, “for another few days.”

“Laryngo-spasm” is a medical term for the closure of the larynx that blocks the passage of air to the lungs. In severe cases, it can require a tracheotomy.

But Dr. Navarro-Valls said the procedure was not used. He also said the pope had not been placed in intensive care nor had he lost consciousness.

The pope suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which can make it difficult for him to control his muscles, and Vatican watchers said this might have exacerbated his difficulty in breathing during Tuesday night’s emergency.

Now in his 26th year of his pontificate, John Paul was the first non-Italian chosen as pope in 456 years.

Speculation that a conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope might be imminent has surged periodically in Rome as commentators try to identify prelates who might find favor with the electors, whose choice is considered determined by the Holy Spirit.

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