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Will Having One Lung Limit Pope Francis?

MAYWOOD, Ill. - According to news reports, Pope Francis had one lung removed due to an infection when he was a teenager.

“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,” said Loyola University Medical Center pulmonologist Dr. Daniel Dilling.

Today, physicians rarely remove lungs due to infections, Dilling said. But last century, it was more common to remove part of a lung (lobectomy) or an entire lung (pneumonectomy) to treat tuberculosis or another lung condition caused by infection, bronchiectasis.

Removing a lung leaves a cavity in the chest, which gradually fills up with sterile, watery fluid that does not cause problems, Dilling said.

Having just one lung might affect the performance of an elite athlete, Dilling said. But otherwise, people who have just one lung “can live normal, productive lives without shortness of breath or other symptoms,” Dilling said.

However, if a person with one lung suffers a lung disease, he or she will not have any reserve capacity to compensate for loss of lung function caused by the disease, Dilling said.

Today, lungs are rarely removed to treat infections. Rather, prompt and aggressive treatment with antibiotics can treat tuberculosis or stop the development of bronchiectasis, Dilling said.

Dilling treats advanced and end-stage lung diseases and is a lung transplantation specialist. He is an associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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Jim Ritter
Media Relations
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