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What's Ailing The Pope

Pope John Paul II was whisked to the hospital with breathing problems caused, the Vatican says, by something called laryngeal tracheitis.

What is it? How is the 84-year-old Pope doing? What might his prognosis be?

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay drew on her own knowledge and Vatican statements to try to provide some answers to co-anchor Julie Chen.

She explains that laryngeal tracheitis is "an inflamation or swelling of the larynx, which is part of, basically, the windpipe. It's the part that separates the upper part, which is the back of the throat, of the pharynx, from the lower part, which is the windpipe, which leads into the lungs.

"And when this becomes swollen or contracts, it can obviously cut off your ability to breathe, and this could be a pretty frightening symptom. It could be intermittent. Usually, it's not fatal, and once they get you to a hospital, there's a whole bunch of different things they can do to help a person come out of the problem."

How is the pontiff faring?

"They (Vatican officials) say this morning he's doing incredibly well," Senay observes. "It does not appear he was intubated (had a tube inserted), which would have indicated a serious breathing problem. He's talking and eating breakfast and working with his aides.

"They say he had a slight fever overnight, that he's had the flu, as has been reported, and of course, he has numerous other underlying medical problems, but fortunately his breathing indicators are normal, his heart is normal and he rested fairly well overnight.

Senay adds that the Pope's Parkinson's disease "absolutely does" complicate matters: "His underlying medical conditions really do put him at the highest risk for developing complications of all sorts. We know that Parkinson's disease leads to complications, including difficulty swallowing or eating. …muscle rigidity, the inability to move muscles in a way that you want to and obviously, balance problems, tremors. These are all side effects of the muscle problem that comes from Parkinson's disease, which is a brain disease that affects the entire body and your ability to move your muscles in the way that you want to."

Do we know if His Holiness got a flu shot?

"This is a really good question," Senay responded, "because, obviously, he's in an age group that is at the highest risk for suffering complications from the flu, particularly pneumonia.

"We do not know if he had the flu shot or not. We do know that the government was very aggressive in vaccinating elderly people in Italy and it seems that this was a good move, because they were somewhat protected. Unfortunately, a lot of kids apparently developed the flu in Italy."