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Pope's Illness Worries Faithful

Pope's Illness Worries FaithfulATufts expert explains Pope John Paul II's recent respiratory ailments,which have generated concern and speculation about the futureof the pope's service. Boston

Boston [03.16.05] With Pope John Paul II's health declining – hewas hospitalized twice in February with the flu and breathingproblems, and is suffering from Parkinson's disease – papalobservers are wondering how much longer the pope will serve. Tobring context to the speculation about the pope's medical condition,Tufts School of Medicine associate professor and geriatric expertRichard Dupee spoke on NBC's Today show.

"WithParkinson's disease you really start, over time – reallytoward the mid and later stages of the disease – to losecontrol of your respiratory muscles, the upper muscles, so thatwhen you swallow, sometimes you can't control where that foodor fluid goes," Dupee told host Katie Couric.

Parkinson'sdisease is a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. The pope suffersfrom symptoms of the disease, including slurred speech and slouchedposture.

"Patientswith Parkinson's disease also hypersecrete. They make an awfullot of mucus," Dupee – chief of geriatrics at Tufts-NewEngland Medical Center – explained. "So you've goteven more putting the lungs at risk."

One of thedangers of the pope's condition, Dupee explained on Today, isaspiration, where foreign material enters the trachea and lungs.

"I'mguessing that what happened was that he was aspirating and basicallygot stuck and he couldn't breathe," the Tufts professor andTufts-NEMC physician said.

Initial reportssuggested that the pope's second stay in the hospital was dueto a relapse of the flu, but Dupee dismissed them.

"Theflu doesn't relapse. The flu is the flu. It's one virus,"he said.

Doctors performeda tracheotomy – a routine procedure where a hole is openedin the trachea (or windpipe) to allow for easier breathing –on the pope, which will cause the pontiff to be unable to speakfor an extended period.

"Attachedinside to this trach tube is a balloon," explained Dupee."When the balloon is inflated, that blocks any ability formouth secretions to end up in the lungs. But he also can't talkwhen that happens. When you deflate it, then he'll be able totalk, but it will be very weak."

While theprocedure has worried some observers, Dupee believes it was anecessary preventive measure.

"I thinkthe message here is that he's in the later stages of Parkinson'sdisease, that he's aspirating, probably recurrently, and it'svery serious. But again, I think [the tracheotomy] was a lifesavingmaneuver."











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