- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

ROME — Pope John Paul II was rushed to the hospital last night after he suffered inflammation of the throat and difficulty breathing while battling the flu, the Vatican said.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope was hospitalized “mainly as a precaution.”

“The flu which the Holy Father was suffering for three days this evening became complicated by an acute laryngeal tracheitis and larynx spasm crisis,” a Vatican statement said. “For this reason urgent admission to Gemelli Polyclinic, which occurred at 10:50 p.m. today was decided.”

Tracheitis, an inflammation of the trachea, requires hospitalization and usually a breathing tube to keep the airway clear. The spasms are likely a complication from the pope’s respiratory illness.

It’s possible his Parkinson’s disease has made his condition more serious and his breathing more labored.

A Vatican official said on condition of anonymity that the pontiff, who has had the flu since Sunday, apparently had experienced a “breathing crisis.”

A close member of the pope’s staff, American Archbishop James Harvey, said the pope had congestion and a slight fever during the day.

A State Department official, who also asked not to be identified, said the pope would be held overnight for observation but there was no indication he was gravely ill.

Cars with Vatican license plates were speeding toward the Catholic hospital, where the pope had been taken, according to an Associated Press correspondent at the scene.

It was the same Rome Catholic teaching hospital he was taken to when shot in the abdomen in 1981 and where he has undergone several operations.

Mr. Navarro-Valls told the Italian news agency ANSA that the pope was in his room in an apartment set aside for him at the hospital, which is near the Vatican.

The frail pontiff has Parkinson’s disease, which makes his speech difficult, as well as chronic hip and knee problems.

He was last seen in public on Sunday, when he made his regular noontime appearance at his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square and released a dove as a sign of peace. He appeared remarkably lively, but his words were barely audible.

Until the pope had been taken to the hospital, the Vatican had been issuing reassuring news about his condition, up to yesterday’s late-night newscast on Vatican Radio.

The first word of his transfer to the hospital came from the Italian press.

The Vatican announced earlier yesterday that it had canceled the pope’s engagements for the next few days.

The canceled appointments included the pope’s weekly public audience today. Besides the traditional morning gathering with the faithful, he had been scheduled to preside at a candle-blessing service in St. Peter’s Basilica in the evening.

Vatican Radio asked the pope’s spokesman earlier yesterday whether the pope felt the good wishes of people worldwide who are concerned about his health.

“I think so, and as always, the Holy Father is grateful for the prayers of the faithful and of all those who love him. I think this closeness means a lot to him,” the spokesman said.

The pope has kept a busy schedule despite experiencing difficulties with speech and movement that are typical for Parkinson’s sufferers.

The last time the pope skipped an audience for illness was in September 2003, when he canceled his traditional Wednesday appointment for pilgrims and tourists because of an intestinal ailment.

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