Pope Francis's health over the years, from sciatica to a partial lung removal

pope francis
Pope Francis.Franco Origlia/Getty Images
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  • Pope Francis has been released from hospital after having surgery to repair a hernia.

  • He's had a few health scares over the years, including colon surgery and recently acute bronchitis.

  • Last year, the pope said he would consider retiring due to his health and physical limitations.

Pope Francis, 86, has had three hospitalizations since he was elected in 2013, and underwent major surgery as a young man to have part of one lung removed.

He has also struggled with nerve pain (sciatica) and arthritic issues, that led to strained knee ligaments and a knee fracture after a fall.

Francis has a personal physician, Dr. Roberto Bernabei, who is an internist and geriatric specialist at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. He also has a personal nurse, Massimiliano Strappetti, an employee of the Vatican health system whom Francis credited with saving his life when Strappetti diagnosed the 2021 intestinal problem.

In 2022, Francis named Strappetti his "personal health care assistant." Strappetti and Bernabei usually join Francis on his foreign trips.

The pope was released from hospital on Friday nine days after having surgery to repair a hernia in his abdominal wall. Here's a look at the health of the pontiff.

1957: Partial lung removal

A 2008 file photo of Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis, riding a crowded subway in Argentina. He wears a black shirt.
Pope Francis, pictured in 2008 when he was Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, riding the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina.Pablo Leguizamon, File/AP Photo

In his native Argentina, Francis, then in his early 20s, suffers from a severe respiratory infection that forces doctors to remove part of one lung. He later recalls that a nurse saved his life at the time, deciding to double the amount of drugs he had been given.

2013-2020: Flare-ups of "painful" sciatica

pope francis
Pope Francis conducting a mass inside the Vatican, soon after he was elected pope in 2013.Reuters

In 2013, the year Francis was elected pope, he told reporters that the hardest thing he had to face since taking office "was an attack of sciatica – really! – that I had the first month, because I was sitting in an armchair to do interviews and it hurt," Catholic News Agency reported.

Sciatica is a kind of nerve pain caused by injury or harm to the sciatic nerve, which runs from the back down the side of the leg, to the foot, according to Cleveland Clinic. The pain radiates along that nerve. The sensation can range from a tingling numbness to severe pain that affects one's ability to walk.

Francis' sciatica was kept relatively under control for the next few years, until December 2020,  when Francis announced he would have to miss New Year's Eve and New Year's Day celebrations due to a flare-up, Reuters reported at the time.

To this day, Francis is occasionally seen struggling to walk, or using a cane or wheelchair. He receives regular physical therapy because of the condition.

July 2021: Doctors remove 13 inches of his colon

Pope Francis waves from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Easter Monday at the Vatican April 13, 2020.  Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS
Pope Francis on Easter Monday, 2020.Reuters

Francis spends 10 days in Gemelli hospital in Rome for what the Vatican says is a narrowing of the large intestine. Doctors remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon. Francis emerges, saying he can eat whatever he wants, but lamenting he didn't respond well to general anesthesia.

June 2022: Treated by Atletico Madrid's doctor for a torn knee ligament and a fracture

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Pope Francis leading a general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican in 2014.REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Francis was forced to cancel a trip to Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan after taking a misstep that left him with torn ligaments and a small fracture.

José María Villalón, an orthopedic surgery specialist and the head doctor at the soccer club Atlético Madrid, was brought in to help, CNN reported.

Villalón told Spanish radio station COPE that Francis's injuries were exacerbated by an "arthritic process which is affecting various joints."

Francis did not want surgery because he reacted badly to anesthesia after his colon operation, Villalón said, adding that he is "very stubborn in the sense that there are surgical solutions that he doesn't want."

July 2022: The Pope floated the idea of retiring due to his health

Pope Francis boards an ITA plane.
Pope Francis boarding a flight.Stefano Costantino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Pope visited Canada in July 2022, and told reporters it was a "test" of his health, Insider's Hannah Getahun reported.

"I think at my age and with these limitations, I have to save [my energy] to be able to serve the church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

January 2023: Issues in his intestinal wall return

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leaves after leading the Holy Mass at the Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok, Thailand, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Pope Francis visits ThailandReuters

Francis tells The Associated Press that the diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, that had prompted the 2021 surgery has returned, but is under control.

March-April 2023: Hospitalized with acute bronchitis

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Pope Francis in downtown Rome in December, 2013.REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Francis spends three days at Gemelli with a respiratory infection after feeling a sharp pain in his chest and having trouble breathing. Doctors diagnose the issue as acute bronchitis and treat him with intravenous antibiotics.

June 2023: 3-hour abdominal surgery

pope francis
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.Franco Origlia/Getty Images

On June 6, Francis undergoes unspecified medical checks at Gemelli and returns to the Vatican.

On June 7, the Vatican says Francis undergoes abdominal surgery for three hours under general anesthesia and that there were no complications.

On June 16, he is released from hospital.

"The pope is well. He's better than before,″ Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the surgeon who performed the operation, tells reporters outside the hospital.

Read the original article on Insider