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Czech Republic: U.S. Specialist Says Havel's Ailment Common

Washington, 15 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A prominent American physician says Czech President Vaclav Havel's latest medical problem is relatively common in older men and is not usually life-threatening.

Dr. Howard Spiro of the Yale University School of Medicine told RFE/RL in an interview Tuesday that perforation of the large intestine, for which an operation was performed on Havel, can usually be corrected.

Spiro, a leading expert on the intestinal system, noted he was not familiar with Havel's specific medical situation. But he agreed to talk in general terms about the ailment itself.

Havel, who won a final five-year term in office in January, was taken ill Tuesday while on a holiday with his wife, Dagmar, in the Tyrolean Alps in Austria. He underwent a 3 1/2-hour emergency operation in the nearby city of Innsbruck.

Ernst Bodner, the head of the medical team that performed the surgery, said the operation was difficult but added that Havel has a good chance of making a full recovery.

Spiro said there is some debate about the exact cause of the illness. He cited "the Lord, age and stress" as possible causes.

Havel is 61 years old. During the communist years he was a leading activist and was harassed by authorities for his political activities. He spent considerable time in jail. And he was a long-time smoker.

Havel has suffered sporadic bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis following an earlier surgery to remove a small cancerous tumor in one of his right lung and part of that lung was removed. He gave up smoking shortly before that operation, in late 1996.

Spiro said "smoking certainly is considered a remote factor" in helping to cause certain types of intestinal ailments such as an ulcer.

Doctors performing the surgery Tuesday reported that the perforation was in the diverticulation (turn) in the large intestine with an inflammation of the intestinal walls. They said there was no sign of malignancy in the abdominal cavity.

Medical experts say inflammation and perforation of the large intestines cause fever, pain and tenderness over the area of the intestine involved. Indeed, Havel complained of such pain before being taking to hospital.

Doctors say in most cases requiring surgery, the diseased section of the intestine is removed and the remaining sections are then joined together.