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Pope starts rehabilitation, Vatican says

ROME—Pope John Paul II has been eating regularly and sitting in a chair, the Vatican said in a brief, carefully worded statement Monday, four days after the 84-year-old pontiff was rushed to the hospital so doctors could cut a hole in his throat to help him breathe.

"The Holy Father's postoperative phase is taking place without complications. His general condition and biological parameters continue to be good," the Vatican statement said. "The Holy Father is eating regularly, spends some hours in an armchair and has begun exercises to rehabilitate breathing and phonation," a reference to the pope's difficulty speaking.

The statement didn't say how long the pope might remain in the hospital, whether he'll recover his ability to speak or whether doctors intend to leave in place the breathing tube they inserted into his throat. In some patients, the tube remains permanently.

The next papal health update will come Thursday, the statement said.

"Certainly there's no need for a daily bulletin," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told Vatican Radio, describing the course of Pope John Paul's illness as "normal."

Still, the pope's second hospitalization in a month was a powerful reminder that he's becoming more frail in the face of Parkinson's disease, which can cause swallowing and breathing problems that can become fatal.

Dr. Nicola Mercuri, a neurosurgeon at Rome's Tor Vergata University, told Associated Press Television News that the pope's speech probably would deteriorate further as his Parkinson's advanced.

"This tube will be a further complication, and we really don't know if the speech will be understandable because it is going to render the tone of voice weaker than it was before," Mercuri said. "We expect a weaker voice. This is for sure."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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