January 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 5
Surgeon says Pope's slow gait related to Parkinson's

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II's limp and slow gait are related to Parkinson's disease, not problems with his artificial hip, said the orthopedic surgeon who implanted the prosthesis in 1994.

    Dr. Gianfranco Fineschi, the surgeon, was the first papal physician to confirm Pope John Paul suffers from Parkinson's and is taking medication to slow its effects. Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disease.

    ``The drugs he is taking to treat the Parkinson's disease, which is the cause of his hand tremors, affect his muscles, reducing facial expressions and forcing him to move with small steps,'' the doctor said in an interview with Oggi magazine.

    ``If the pope limps, in fact, he does so for neurological and not orthopedic reasons,'' he said.

    The Vatican press office had no immediate comment on the article in the Italian magazine, which went on sale Jan. 4th.

    ``The Holy Father's physique is very muscular like a swimmer's which, together with the treatments, has sustained him; but without the help of God he would not be able to remain fully active,'' Fineschi said.

    The doctor said he absolutely does not believe Pope John Paul will resign from the papacy.

    ``I hope he will continue with the same ability, the same determination and the same diligence to do what he has been doing up until now. He has done very well, but it is not enough in a world which needs him so much,'' he said.

    In addition to performing the 1994 surgery after the pope broke his femur, Fineschi was part of the team of doctors operating on the pope after he was shot in 1981 because of damage to his elbow, and he treated the pope in 1993 when he fell and dislocated his shoulder.

    ``Every time the pope leaves on a trip or tires himself during an official event, I fear for him,'' Fineschi said.

    ``As a doctor, I should order him to rest, but it would be useless,'' he said. The pope carries out his mission ``even at the cost of great suffering, with total altruism.''

    ``I worry even more when the Holy Father is in situations which are dangerous for any elderly person, when it is very hot, for instance,'' he said.

    Fineschi said it was difficult to keep the pope resting even after the hip-replacement surgery.

    ``To force the pope to stay away from his work is impossible, so he left the hospital after just two weeks,'' the doctor said.

    ``To have him as a patient was a unique and moving experience because of the dignity and temperament with which the pope endures physical suffering, which is particularly strong with an orthopedic operation,'' he said. ``During his recovery, he never lost his smile, and he refused every painkiller.''

    Fineschi said that for ``a long time'' he had lunch with the pope every Wednesday and was struck by his ``fascinating personality'' and his sense of humor.

    The doctor said his reverence for the pope and his awe in his presence did not prevent the development of a real friendship.

    In the interview, Fineschi said the pope had made comments to him about papal meetings with a variety of world leaders, including Poland's former communist president, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski; the former Chilean dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet; and U.S. President Bill Clinton.

    The doctor quoted the pope as saying, ``Jaruzelski told me: `I am Catholic, but in the face of the Red Army, that counts for nothing.'''

    Fineschi said the pope told him he had advised Pinochet to resign. Although the dictator remained in office, ``after our meeting he sought, within his limits, to mitigate the harshness of his regime,'' the doctor quoted the pope as saying.

    After one of his meetings with Clinton -- Fineschi did not say which meeting -- he said the pope told him: ``The only one I wasn't able to dialogue with was Clinton. I spoke and he looked at the wall, admiring the frescoes and the paintings. He was not listening to me.''

For other news stories, see

January 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 5
News from the Vatican

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