A medical team, including a personal health assistant and a team of doctors, is always attentive to the pontiff's physical wellbeing.
On June 7, 2023, Pope Francis entered the Gemelli Hospital where he underwent a successfulsurgery. In 2021, a dozen doctors were involved in his colon operation at the same hospital. The Pope’s health is a particularly sensitive subject. His slightest health problem is closely observed by journalists, but more importantly by a medical team that accompanies him at all times, in complete discretion.
The medical team
On a daily basis, whether he’s at the Vatican or traveling the world, Pope Francis is always discreetly followed by a man who is sometimes seen with briefcases in hand. This is the pontiff’s personal health assistant, Massimiliano Strappetti, appointed on August 4, 2022.
Pope Francis himself created the title of personal health assistant as a totally new position, giving official status to this Italian in his 50s. But it’s also a reward: According to the Pope, this former nurse in the Gemelli intensive care unit “saved his life” in July 2021by insisting on his emergency hospitalization. Doctors would subsequently remove 13 inches of the Pope’s intestine. Massimiliano Strappetti had already been a member of the Vatican medical team for many years. He served both John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
This close medical vigilance is headed by the Pope’s personal physician. Since February 24, 2021, Dr. Roberto Bernabei has filled this role. He is a surgeon from Florence specializing in internal medicine, geriatrics, and cardiology. A professor at Rome’s Sacred Heart Catholic University, he has also been the president of the Italian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
Most importantly, the Pope’s doctor is Director of the Department of Geriatrics, Neurology, Orthopedics, and Head and Neck Medicine at the Gemelli Hospital.
It is to this facility, located less than 5 miles northwest of the Vatican, that popes go if they need hospitalization or examinations. The polyclinic has already welcomed Francis. It also welcomed John Paul II, on numerous occasions: in 1981 after his assassination attempt, then in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and finally in 2005, shortly before his death.
Pope Francis’ 2021 colon operation
In this institution, the Pope is cared for by an army of medical specialists. On July 4, 2021, for his colon operation, Pope Francis was under the care of Drs. Massimo Antonelli, Liliana Sollazzi, and Drs. Roberto De Cicco and Maurizio Soave for his general anesthesia. The operation itself was performed by Dr. Sergio Alfieri, with the assistance of Drs. Luigi Sofo, Antonio Tortorelli, and Roberta Menghi. In addition to these eight doctors, the Pope’s personal physician and Dr. Giovanni Battista Doglietto, Director of the Department of General Surgery at the University Hospital, were also present in the operating room.
Looking to the future
As it did in 2021, the Vatican press office may once again provide more information about the medical team currently caring for the pontiff. It has announced that the Pope will remain hospitalized for “several days” and has cleared his scheduled till June 18.
This summer, Francis is due to attend the WYD in Lisbon from August 2 to 6, as recently announced by the Holy See. On each of his trips, an ambulance is systematically dispatched to accompany him.