Pope Francis I has only one lung after losing the other during childhood, but health experts say it’s not likely to slow down the newly elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The 76-year-old Argentinian, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, had one lung removed when he was a teenager because of infection. Health experts say the antibiotics available today simply weren’t around six decades ago when Bergoglio had his infection, leading to the removal of the lung.
After having only one lung for so long, Pope Francis I is expected to avoid any major complications from here on.
“Obviously, this was a success because here he is at age 76,” Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, told The Associated Press. “So whatever they did got him over that precarious period.”
Shaffner pointed out that lungs are redundant, so people who only have one are able to lead perfectly normal lives and engaged in all of the same physical activities.
Dr. Daniel Dilling, a pulmonologist at the Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago, said lungs are actually built with more capacity than necessary for that very reason.
“A person with two lungs has a lot of reserve function, so if one lung is removed, he or she can still function normally, without shortness of breath,” Dilling said in a statement about the new pope. “You can live no problem with one lung.”
The pope’s age is more of a concern than having one lung, said pulmonologist Dr. Greg Martin, who teaches at Emory University and specializes in critical care.
“For someone like him, one lung is a potential complication,” he told The Associated Press. “If someone has reduced lung capacity –– one lung, underlying lung disease –– they’re more susceptible to more severe pneumonia and more serious complications from pneumonia.”
If an older person suffers a disease, reduced lung capacity could compound the problem, Dilling said, so the pope having one lung could eventually affect him.