New Pope Had Lung Removed as a Teen: Implications For Future Health and Longevity0
Pope Francis, (previously Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio), is reported to have had one of his lungs removed during his teen years as a result of an infection, according to multiple sources.
This serves as a credit to his doctors — since he is now 76 and has been apparently doing well since his lung operation, a pneumonectomy (removal of the entire lung), many decades ago.
In the modern era, pneumonectomies have traditionally been performed to treat lung cancer when other more conservative procedures cannot achieve comparable or satisfactory results. This radical procedure may also be the most appropriate management for a tumor that is located near the central portion of the lung where vital blood vessels (pulmonary arteries and veins) are located.
Pneumonectomies have also been performed on patients to remove diseased segments of compromised lung tissue–seen in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which includes empysema and chronic bronchitis.
There are a number of infectious disease entities which may have caused doctors to use surgery to treat the reported infection in the Pope’s lungs.
First and foremost, antibiotics were not likely not widely available during his early adolescence and the only viable treatment available was surgery to remove the site of infection in the diseased lung.
Potential explanations for the pope’s lung surgery at such a young age include the possibility of extensive tuberculosis (TB), severe or necrotizing pneumonia, a congenital lung defect (sequestration or bronchopleural fistula) with superimposed infection or even a case of complicated whooping cough or pertussis with secondary infection.
People are generally able to survive with one lung (as evidenced by Pope Francis) and live active, healthy and productive lives. It is not necessary to have two lungs for survival, similar to patients who can survive with only 1 kidney. In fact, patients with a solitary lung can generally engage in sports and activities including without difficulty. They can lead normal lives just as persons with two lungs–assuming they remain healthy.
However, if patients living with one lung have diabetes, coronary artery disease, chronic lung disease or are immunosuppressed, they may also be more vulnerable to develop complications such as respiratory distress or failure if they develop an upper respiratory infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Patients with decreased lung capacity and reserve (patients with removal of a lung) including those patients with COPD would likely have a stormy recuperative period if they develop a lung infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Living with one lung, (with reduced lung capacity), the new Pope could be at risk for developing more serious types of pneumonia as well as more complications from the pneumonia itself.
That said, with modern medical care and many physicians to watch over him closely, he will be closely monitored for any signs of fatigue or decline. The high-stress, high visibility papal position will certainly be a test of his endurance. However, in no way, based on his previous performance, should this be a reason for him not to ascend to this highly coveted position