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Corbett slated for back operation

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett will undergo back surgery at a Pittsburgh hospital on Monday but anticipates resuming his duties the following day and recuperating at his Shaler home, his office said.

Orthopaedic surgeons Mark A. Fye and Patrick J. DeMeo will perform the procedure, considered routine, at Allegheny General Hospital to treat spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that compresses nerves and causes pain. Corbett will be hospitalized one or two days, his office said, and Lt. Gov. James Cawley will become acting governor when Corbett undergoes anesthesia and until he can resume his duties.

Corbett, 61, otherwise is considered to be in good health, according to tests done in preparation for the surgery, his office said. He plans to return to Harrisburg by the end of next week.

Their life there changed dramatically since Corbett's inauguration in January, first lady Susan Corbett said in an interview Downtown on Friday. They no longer can do anything spontaneously, she said.

The first lady, a guest speaker for the American Heart Association's annual Go Red for Women conference, said she tries to carve out as normal a life as possible for them. They invite friends to visit, or go out to see a movie, and enjoy browsing farmers' markets, she said. Yet, though they lived in Harrisburg for five years while her husband was attorney general, she said neither of them anticipated the isolation they feel in the governor's mansion or how personal the political attacks would become.

"In campaigning, you expect it to be brutal and mean and nasty, and it is. But once he was elected attorney general, for the most part people approve of what you are doing unless you are a criminal," Corbett said. Now, policy differences have led to personal attacks, she said. "That is the hard part to take. We just didn't experience it before."

Susan Corbett, 60, said her husband of 39 years handles it well because he is determined. "It's not that he doesn't hear the criticism," she said, "it's just that he doesn't let it sway him from what he thinks is the right path. ... Being governor is not a popularity contest; it's about making tough, sometimes unpopular decisions."

Pennsylvania faces a $4 billion budget deficit, and the governor's state budget proposal in March suggested deep cuts to education and universities. Critics say schools will take an unfair hit, and the governor should consider imposing an extraction tax or fee on the Marcellus shale gas drilling industry. Corbett campaigned with a promise not to impose or raise taxes.

Infuriated as a wife, Susan Corbett said she has "written a lot of letters to the editor" to vent her frustrations. "Then," she said, "I put them on my desk and let them sit for two or three days. Then I put them in the trash can."

Though her husband's spinal condition, a common result of aging, can lead to decreased physical activity and permanent damage, Susan Corbett said she is finding release from political tension by gardening. Her staff told her that the plot she works is "the first garden a Pennsylvania first lady has ever physically done herself."

Partial to perennials, she wants to plant more flowers and hopes to persuade gardeners from across the state to donate heritage plants for the governor's residence. "These are plants you don't find in nurseries anymore," she said.

Her husband remarked the other day, while looking out their bedroom window, that he felt like a prisoner of sorts, because he couldn't leave unless someone let him out, Corbett said.

"The staff half-jokingly said they worried I might use my gardening tools to build a tunnel for us to escape," she said.

Before the governor's surgery, the Corbetts will have a busy weekend. He gives the commencement address today at York College, and she delivers one today at Chestnut Hill College near Philadelphia. On Sunday, their son Tom graduates from Carnegie Mellon University.




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