- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

AOSTA, Italy | Pope Benedict XVI emerged smiling from the hospital Friday after undergoing surgery for a broken wrist from 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.

Dr. 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.

Dr. Amedeo Mancini, the orthopedic surgeon who performed Friday’s operation, said the pope would suffer no long-term effects from the fracture.

Dr. Patrizio Polisca, the pope’s personal physician who was at the hospital with him, said 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.

Until Friday’s surgery, there had 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.

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.

With a cast, the pope may 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.

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