The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires needed to have his other lung removed as a teenager because of an infection, the Associated Press reported:
Bergoglio has slowed a bit with age and is feeling the effects of having a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager — two strikes against him at a time when many Vatican-watchers say the next pope should be relatively young and strong.
But in general, only having one lung shouldn’t really hinder health at all, said Dr. Sandhya Khurana, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and a pulmonologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who is not the pope’s doctor.
“If you have normal lungs, then that’s certainly possible to just live with one lung and we get proof of that on a regular basis because of people who have lost a lung through surgery, for an infection, or cancer,” Khurana told HuffPost. As long as “they have normal breathing … and normal lung function, they seem to do OK.”
A big factor in the respiratory health of someone with only one lung is the condition of the lung that is still in the body, she said. If a person was a smoker or had a diseased lung to begin with, then he or she won’t tolerate the removal of a lung as well. But if the person is healthy, then that won’t be generally be a limitation.
Even though the infection Bergoglio suffered from as a teenager has not been revealed, Khurana added that a common treatment for people who suffered from lung infections decades ago (such as tuberculosis), when antibiotics were not as advanced as they are today, was to have the infected lung purposely collapsed to make it nonfunctional, since it’s possible for people to function with only one lung. “I would say it’s not rare” for that to occur back then, she said.
Dr. Richard Shemin, M.D., professor and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who also has not treated the pope, told HuffPost that since Bergoglio’s lung was removed as a teenager and he’s already managed to live to age 76, “my expectation would be that his lung is not necessarily going to be a life-limiting event.”
The body is able to compensate “where the good lung becomes larger and obviously can provide all the oxygenation for circulation,” Shemin added.