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Pope Francis's One Lung Should Not Be Cause for Alarm

Update Date: Mar 14, 2013 09:54 AM EDT

Pope Francis, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina, is 76 years old, younger than the former Pope Benedict was when he was selected for the duty. However, he has one health issue that the other Pope did not have: he has only one lung.

Pope Francis had his lung removed as a teenager due to a lung infection. Though the Vatican has not yet released any more information about it to the media, ABC News speculates that the lung removal could have been due to a number of possibilities: tuberculosis, a whooping cough complication, complications from pneumonia or a congenital lung defect that became infected. All of those possibilities are more likely in middle-aged individuals than in teenagers, but they appear to be the sole options available.

However, that the Pope is still alive is a credit to his doctors. If he would have reacted badly to the operation, that would have occurred long before his 76 years. According to the Associated Press, experts say that having one lung would not necessarily have a negative impact on his health or on his lifespan. He would have to avoid particularly vigorous exercise, like marathons, but that is likely not on the Vatican's agenda anyway.

Such a procedure would be unlikely to be performed today. Antibiotics are used to combat the vast majority of infections, including antibiotics. However, back when Pope Francis was young, the antibiotics were not as powerful as the ones that we have today. Doctors' methods were also more experimental in this time period; one physician reportedly stuck ping pong balls in patients' lungs.

Today, Forbes reports that the removal of an entire lung, or a pneumonectomy, would only occur in the rarest of circumstances. It would be performed in the case of lung cancer, if more conservative treatments had failed, particularly if a tumor was in the middle of the organ by vital blood vessels. Lung removals also occur to remove diseased tissue, like in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Having one lung would make for a strenuous battle if he suffered from coronary artery disease, diabetes, was immunosuppressed or had another lung infection, like bronchitis. However, due to the advances of modern medicine, and as the Pope will be surrounded by top-notch doctors, there is no reason to worry about whether his single lung will obstruct his ability to perform his papal duties.

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