- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009


AOSTA, Italy (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI emerged smiling from the hospital Friday after undergoing surgery for a broken wrist due to a fall at his Alpine vacation chalet. Doctors said his right arm would be in a cast for a month.

A Vatican statement said the 82-year-old pope fell in his room overnight and despite the accident celebrated Mass and had breakfast in the morning before going to the hospital.

After an X-ray showed the fracture, surgeons performed a successful, 20-minute operation under local anesthesia on the right wrist, said Dr. Pierluigi Berti, the director of the Umberto Parini hospital in Aosta. The surgery was to reduce the fracture, a procedure to realign the broken bone fragments.

The German-born pontiff left the hospital about six hours after arriving, smiling and waving with his left arm as he climbed into his car. His right arm hung straight by his side, the cast hidden by his white vestments. At one point he pointed to the cast, as if to explain why he wasn’t waving with his right hand.

Berti said the pope was in high spirits and stressed that the fall had been accidental and was not the result of any health condition. He said the cast will be removed in a month.

Dr. Amedeo Mancini, the orthopedic surgeon who performed Friday’s operation, said the pope would suffer no long-term effects from the fracture and would be able to write and play the piano once his wrist heals.

“It was a special patient for a routine operation,” Mancini said, adding that Benedict was an excellent patient and readily agreed to the surgery.

Dr. Patrizio Polisca, the pope’s personal physician who was at the hospital with him, said in a statement that Benedict’s general health was good and he was fit to return to the chalet in the mountains near Aosta.

Despite his age and a history of serious medical problems, Benedict has been remarkably healthy during his four-year pontificate, keeping to a busy schedule and traveling around the world.

In fact, until Friday’s surgery, there have been no reported medical problems since he assumed the papacy in 2005.

The most serious issue in his medical record was a hemorrhagic stroke he acknowledged suffering in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision, as well as a fall that knocked him unconscious in 1992. Benedict has said he recovered without permanent damage from either incident.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said earlier Friday that Benedict had slipped in his room at the chalet and was hurt, but that it did not seem serious. The ANSA news agency reported that Benedict arrived at the hospital by car and walked into the first aid ward with his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein.

Vatican security and Italian police stood on guard outside the hospital, where a small crowd of onlookers gathered.

Benedict has been vacationing in the village of Les Combes in the Valle d’Aosta region near the French border since Monday. He is scheduled to remain until July 29, with two scheduled public appearances in northwestern Italy to deliver his traditional Angelus prayer on Sundays. He was expected to stick to his schedule despite the accident, Vatican aides said.

One pleasure that he is sure to be denied at least in the near term is playing the piano. The pope is a classical music lover and enjoys playing the instrument while on vacation.

With a cast, he may also find it difficult to write, sign documents or bless crowds. In addition, the pontiff had to take off his ring — the large gold Fisherman’s ring that signifies his papal authority. The pontiff usually wears it on his right ring finger; as he left the hospital, the ring was visible on his left ring finger.

The ring, which features the figure of St. Peter casting his net from a fisherman’s boat, is traditionally kissed by the faithful when they meet the pontiff in a sign of respect.

“We’ll see in the next few days how he is able to carry out his functions,” Lombardi said. “Surely some things will change” in terms of how he blesses crowds and celebrates Mass, he said.

Benedict, who turned 82 in April, told German media in 2006 that “I’ve never felt strong enough to plan many long trips.”

Since then, however, he has traveled to Australia, the United States, Brazil and most recently to two sub-Saharan African countries among his 12 foreign pilgrimages. While looking tired at times, he has always bounced back.

Benedict has spent two summers at Les Combes in recent years. He said upon arrival that he expected to rest and work during his vacation.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also spent several summers at Les Combes. While John Paul liked to hike, Benedict spends most of his time inside the chalet that looks out on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps.

Among adults over 65, falls are the leading cause of deaths caused by injuries. The risk of falling increases significantly with age, as older people typically have more problems with eyesight, movement and balance.

Older people are also at increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition which weakens the bones and makes them easier to break — making falls more dangerous.

Bruno reported from Aosta and David from the Vatican. AP reporters Chiara Sottile in Rome and Victor Simpson at the Vatican also contributed to this report.

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