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 CNS Story:

As pope's health deteriorated, his voice fell silent

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As Pope John Paul II's health deteriorated in his final years, his once-athletic frame turned rigid and his voice fell silent.

The pope's final months brought a succession of medical interventions to alleviate breathing and swallowing problems, including a tracheotomy and the use of a nasogastric tube for nourishment.

While he occasionally was wheeled to his apartment window to bless the crowd, his famed communication skills had all but disappeared. The tracheotomy, a tube placed in the throat, left the pontiff barely able to use his vocal cords.

As early as 2002, he was pronouncing speeches and sermons only in part, handing the rest of his texts to aides for reading. By early 2004, he no longer walked in public; his progressive immobility forced the pope to move on a wheeled platform at major ceremonies and to give up his role as celebrant in many liturgies. Papal trips were briefer and closer to home.

In 1996, the Vatican announced the pope was suffering from an "extrapyramidal" nervous system disorder. Although the Vatican never specified further, the disease was believed to be Parkinson's, and its symptoms became increasingly noticeable: a shaking left arm, slurred speech, unsteadiness, labored breathing and a rigid facial expression.

He suffered through an array of other health troubles, including an arthritic knee, a broken thigh bone, a dislocated shoulder, an appendectomy, a colon tumor and problems related to the 1981 attempt on his life.

Following were some of his more prominent health problems.

-- May 13, 1981: Shot three times -- in lower abdomen, right forearm and left index finger -- as he entered St. Peter's Square for a general audience. No vital organs hit. Bullets tore multiple holes in intestines, shattered second and third bones of left index finger and seriously wounded right forearm. Underwent five hours of surgery at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic; received six pints of blood. Doctors said prognosis was guarded because of danger of infection.

-- May 27, 1981: Dr. Gianfranco Fineschi, orthopedic director of Gemelli Polyclinic, told Vatican Radio the pope's left index finger was "injured irreversibly" and he would not regain full use of it.

-- June 20, 1981: Re-hospitalized with inflammation of right lung, high fever.

-- June 24, 1981: Doctors at Gemelli Polyclinic diagnosed pope with a cytomegalovirus infection, a herpes-type viral disease. Two days later, Dr. Emilio Tresalti, director of Gemelli Polyclinic, said the pope's CMV infection was probably caused by the blood transfusions he received. Tresalti said neither law nor health practices required CMV tests for blood donors.

-- Aug. 5, 1981: Underwent successful one-hour operation to reverse colostomy inserted May 13 during abdominal surgery following assassination attempt.

-- July 15, 1992: Doctors at Gemelli Polyclinic removed an orange-sized, noncancerous tumor from pope's colon. His gallbladder also was removed because it contained numerous gallstones.

-- Nov. 11, 1993: Dislocated shoulder and fractured shoulder socket in a fall on the steps in the Hall of the Benediction at the Vatican. Doctors at Gemelli Polyclinic reset shoulder under general anesthesia.

-- April 28, 1994: Broke right thigh bone in a fall while getting out of the bathtub.

-- April 29, 1994: Underwent two-hour operation at Rome's Gemelli hospital to replace head of the bone, where it fit into the hip, with a metal prosthesis. The pope walked with a cane for several months and relied on it for support more frequently as he got older.

-- Dec. 25, 1995: Sick with a light fever and upset stomach, was forced to abruptly break off his Christmas blessing to the world and shorten his holiday schedule. Missed Christmas morning Mass for first time since his election in 1978.

-- March 15, 1996: Suffered from a "fever syndrome of a digestive nature," according to Vatican spokesman.

-- Sept. 11, 1996: Spokesman said pope suffered "extrapyramidal" nervous system disturbances, which can indicate Parkinson's disease, as evident in tremors in pope's left arm that had increased in previous months.

-- Sept. 16, 1996: Vatican announced pope had inflamed appendix.

-- Oct. 8, 1996: Underwent successful appendectomy. Doctors ruled out any more serious intestinal disorder.

-- June 12, 1999: During his Poland trip, received three stitches to his scalp after a fall in his Warsaw residence.

-- June 15, 1999: During trip to Poland, a bout with the flu forced the pope to miss Mass for a million people in his former archdiocese of Krakow and postpone another planned stop.

-- Dec. 29, 1999: For the first time, the pope used a wheeled platform instead of walking down the aisle of St. Peter's Basilica. It became standard at his appearances at the Vatican and elsewhere.

-- March 23, 2003: The pope began using a hydraulic, wheeled chair that allowed him to celebrate Mass while seated.

-- Oct. 19, 2003: For the first time, at the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the pope did not pronounce a single word of his sermon, allowing an aide to read the text in full.

-- Feb. 1, 2005: Suffering from the flu, Pope John Paul was rushed to Gemelli Hospital with severe breathing problems caused by an inflammation in his throat. He was released Feb. 10.

-- Feb. 24, 2005: Pope is again taken by ambulance to Gemelli with a recurrence of the breathing problems; doctors perform tracheotomy.

-- March 30, 2005: A tube for feeding is inserted through the pope's nose to his stomach to aid nutrition.


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