Vatican calls up Atlético Madrid doctor to treat pope’s knee problem

José María Villalón describes Francis as ‘charming and stubborn’ patient, who did not want surgical intervention

The head doctor at the Spanish football team Atlético de Madrid has described Pope Francis as a “very charming and very stubborn” patient, after the Vatican called him up to treat the pontiff’s enduring knee problem.

José María Villalón, a distinguished doctor in the field of sport traumatology, has been treating footballers at the club since 1995.

Since May, Francis, 85, has frequently been seen using a wheelchair or walking stick due to his knee ailment. The Vatican has not revealed exactly what the problem is, although Villalón said he had been called upon to “improve his mobility and stop his arthritic process” without resorting to surgery.

Villalón told Cope, the radio network of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, that he had been “very nervous” when he first spoke to the pontiff, owing to the pressure he felt to get a “world figure” back into shape. He said Francis had made it clear that he did not want surgery, after undergoing a colon operation in July 2021.

Villalón added: “Pope Francis is a very nice but very stubborn patient, in the sense that there are surgical proposals that he doesn’t want. More conservative treatments must be offered to him.”

Francis was no ordinary patient, he said, with the treatment made more challenging due to the pontiff’s busy itinerary. “But I’m optimistic. The pope can be helped.”

Pope Francis cancelled a trip to South Sudan in early July because of the knee problem, but travelled to Canada later that month, where he appeared in a wheelchair. He said at the time that he could no longer travel like he used to because of the ailment.

The pain in his knee was so bad during a recent journey to Bahrain that he was unable to do his usual walk-around to greet journalists in the papal flight from Rome.


Angela Giuffrida in Rome

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