Pope Should Regain Speech

The tracheotomy Pope John Paul II had is helping him breathe. But some people wonder whether it will keep him from speaking, which would have serious implications for his ability to continue to lead the world's Roman Catholics.

But The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay tells co-anchor Rene Syler there's "really no reason he cannot regain the ability to speak. There are ways and techniques they can use that allow a person to speak.

"Christopher Reeve is probably the best example of someone who was able to speak with this," Senay says.

"If this

improves his condition overall, there's no reason why he can't go back to what he was doing, although, of course, speaking in a new way."

However, Senay cautions that "infection is a big problem" with tracheotomies "and that's something to be watching out for."

Still, from what the Vatican is making known about the pontiff's condition, "it sounds like he's done very well. He's off the ventilator. So at the moment, it sounds like he's OK."

Senay explained that, "A tracheotomy or tracheostomy -- a lot of people are asking about the terminology and I think it's OK to use the words interchangeably -- is just a simple incision into the windpipe that allows a breathing tube to be placed there that allows the upper part of the airway, such as the nose or the mouth, to be bypassed, so air can get directly into the lungs from this opening. It's a pretty standard procedure and from everything we've read or heard as far as what happened with the pope, it sounds pretty routine."

Technically, Senay points out, this probably isn't a relapse of the flu. "'The flu' is a loose term. People use it to mean all sorts of things and, strictly speaking, it means influenza of the viral type that we're all talking about this season. So it's hard to say if this is a true relapse of the flu because, generally, that doesn't really happen. Once your body has fought it off and you've recovered from it, you get better.

"One of the main problems with the flu and one of the reasons we talk about flu shots all the time is that you can get complications on top of the flu. Your body weakens and allows bacteria to take hold, creating a bacterial infection or pneumonia, and that is a very serious complication. When people die from the flu, it's usually because they've developed some sort of bacterial complication."

The Holy Father's Parkinson's disease also complicates matters, Senay says.

"We're speculating, because we don't know his case exactly. But I was speaking to a number of doctors and a number of experts, and Parkinson's does have a complication, particularly in the later stages, where they have trouble swallowing. And one of the things that happens when you have trouble swallowing is, you begin to breathe things into the airways, and that's where the problem happens. It's called aspiration.

"When you are continually breathing things into the airway, your larynx can go into spasm, and that can create an additional breathing problem. And this sort of makes sense based on what we're hearing has happened to him in the last few occasions when he's been hospitalized for this sort of spasm. And this tracheostomy may be part of the way to control that spasm, so he doesn't continue to aspirate. Again, this is speculation, because we really don't know exactly what's going on with him, particularly why they did this."