ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has promoted a Vatican nurse he credits with saving his life to his “personal health assistant.”
The Vatican announced the appointment of Massimiliano Strappetti in a one-line statement released Thursday. Strappetti, the nursing coordinator for the Vatican’s health department, accompanied Francis on a difficult trip to Canada last month.
Francis, 85, wrote to Strappetti last year that he accurately diagnosed a bowel problem that led to the Pope’s 10-day hospital stay in July 2021 to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his narrowed colon.
“A nurse, a man of great experience, saved my life,” Francis told COPE radio of the Spanish Episcopal Conference in the months following his operation.
Francis noted that Strappetti’s intervention was the second time a nurse had saved his life. A nurse in his native Argentina decided in 1957 to double the amount of drugs prescribed to the future pope, then known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, after part of his lung was removed due to a respiratory infection, he recalls.
Francis has a personal physician, Dr. Roberto Bernabei, who was appointed last year. Bernabei is an internist and geriatric specialist at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
The Pope has had a range of health problems in the past year, the most significant being strained ligaments in his right knee that severely reduced his mobility. After months of magnetic and laser treatments, Francis can walk short distances with a cane or walker, although he also uses a wheelchair.
Strappetti was on hand to assist with the wheelchair during Francis’ general audience Wednesday. He coordinates the nurses of the Vatican’s small healthcare system, which provides basic care to Vatican employees and their families.
Strappetti’s appointment was announced days after he and a doctor accompanied Francis on his weeklong “penitent pilgrimage” to Canada to atone for the Catholic Church’s role in the country’s residential schools for indigenous children. Francis always travels with a doctor and nurse on hand in case he has any health problems. For example, Strappetti was present when Francis made his main apology and received a feathered headdress from native leaders.
On the flight home from the trip, Francis said he would have to delay his future travels and perhaps step down one day.
“This trip was a bit of a test. It’s true you can’t travel in this state, maybe we should change the style a little bit, cut it down, pay off the debts of the trips I still have to do and reorganize,” he said. But he added that “the door is open” to step down even if he is unable to continue.