Having one lung should pose no problem for pope
His predecessor was the first pope to retire because of deteriorating health — a condition no doubt exacerbated by frequent world travel and a demanding schedule.
Yet at age 76, Pope Francis arrives at the Vatican with his own medical history. Specifically, the new leader of the Catholic Church had one of his lungs removed as a teen, likely due to an infection.
Medical experts said the pope's condition shouldn't stand in the way of his ability to manage one of the world's largest nonprofit organizations — as long as he can guard against a serious case of pneumonia or influenza. Even with one lung missing, his pulmonary function is still 60 percent to 70 percent that of a person with two lungs.
“People who have spent their entire life living with one lung usually accommodate to it extremely well,” said Dr. Richard Shemin, chief of cardiac and thoracic surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. “That's assuming they don't smoke and do everything they can to not have environmental factors destroy their good lung.”
Today, the primary cause of lung removal is lung cancer. But decades ago, prior to the availability of powerful antibiotics, lung removal would have been a radical way of treating infection brought on by severe tuberculosis or pneumonia.
Shemin said that in cases in which a lung has been removed, function of the residual lung is increased.
“Two lungs are not required for life,” he said.
Doctors measure lung function according to the amount of air a person can expel from their lungs in one second.
Healthy individuals with two lungs will blow out roughly 4 liters of air. A healthy person with one lung will blow between 2.5 and 2.75 liters, said Dr. John Belperio, a professor of pulmonary and critical care at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Even individuals who blow out just 1.5 liters of air can sustain life for a long time, he said.
“Typically, it does not impair a person's life, really, in any way,” Belperio said. “They live essentially as long as a normal person would live. Typically, they can exercise, depending on their conditioning, pretty similar to a normal person. So they don't really have any true physical limitations.”
Even with a demanding schedule and frequent travel, a single lung is unlikely to limit a person's ability to work, experts said.
In Francis' case, the greater risk is the chance that the pope would contract a serious case of pneumonia or the flu.
“He's not going to have as much reserve lung capacity as someone with two lungs,” Belperio said. “It puts him at a little bit of a disadvantage, but not much.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Srebrenica’s killing fields home to thousands slain in genocide
- Iran tells U.S. to curtail ‘coercion’
- Death toll from capsized Philippine ferry rises to 50
- Allentown firm ups security at Western Pa. facilities after France attack
- Gunman rampages through Tunisian seaside resort killing at least 37
- Official: Iran agrees to early inspections start
- Israelis intercept protest ship at sea bound for Gaza Strip
- Little hope of survivors in Indonesian plane crash