Introducing The New, One-Lunged Pope

Jorge Mario Bergoglio may be the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit, but he may also be the first pope with a single lung.

The Associated Press, via The Seattle Times offers a detailed account of Francis’ health status as it relates to the lung he lost many years ago:

The Argentine pontiff lost the greater part of one lung to a teenage infection. “He feels it today,” says his authorized biographer Sergio Rubin. “He’s a little bit slowed by it, but he’s OK.”

Pope Francis/Getty Images

Pope Francis/Getty Images

Doctors said that losing one lung doesn’t necessarily compromise the pope’s health or reduce his life span, though it means no strenuous exercise since he no longer has as much air capacity as people with two lungs. “He probably wouldn’t be able to run marathons, but I don’t think that would be on his schedule,” said Dr. Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London. “Having one lung should be enough as long as there is no other disease in that lung.”

Openshaw didn’t think a papal schedule would be too taxing for Francis’ one lung, though he noted the pope’s rib cage might look slightly unusual. “His X-ray will probably look rather alarming, but understandable once you know he only has one lung,” he said.

Openshaw said Francis’ existing lung would probably have expanded to fill the space left by the missing one, and that his rib cage would have shrunk slightly in size. His diaphragm may also have moved up slightly higher than normal. But none of those changes should affect Francis’ normal activities, he said.

One potential concern is if the 76-year-old pontiff develops an infection in his existing lung, something that becomes more common (and serious) with age:

Jeremy Ward, a professor of respiratory physiology at King’s College London, said he was only mildly concerned about the pope’s health – unless he gets sick.

“If he gets any sort of infection, it could be much more serious in him than in someone else with two lungs. … That could make him susceptible to pneumonia, which would be very dangerous for him.” he said, adding it would either take the pope longer to recover or debilitate him.

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