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Mother Teresa Seriously Ill at Scripps Clinic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was listed as seriously ill Monday in the intensive care unit of Scripps Clinic & Research Foundation after experiencing heart failure and undergoing a procedure to open a blocked artery.

The 81-year-old Roman Catholic missionary and Nobel Prize winner is responding to treatment but will be hospitalized for at least a week, clinic spokeswoman Sue Pondrom said.

Mother Teresa was admitted to the renowned La Jolla clinic Thursday for treatment of bacterial pneumonia, and on Saturday developed symptoms of myocardial ischemia, an inadequate blood supply to the heart, Pondrom said.

The inadequate blood supply interferes with the heart’s ability to circulate blood, and, as the heart fails, fluid accumulates in the lungs and elsewhere in the body.

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The blockage caused a brief episode of heart failure Saturday, Pondrom said.

Doctors performed an angioplasty Sunday afternoon to clear the arterial blockage, Pondrom said.

In that non-surgical procedure, a tiny balloon device is threaded via a catheter through the artery to the blockage near the heart and then inflated to force open the narrowed vessel. A stent--a thin, cylindrical, slotted tube--was expanded within the vessel, providing a sort of scaffolding to hold open the artery, Pondrom said.

Within four to six weeks, the small metal device will actually become incorporated into the arterial wall, after being covered by a lining of cells, and remain there permanently.

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Assuming Mother Theresa recovers satisfactorily from the procedure, no immediate further medical action is anticipated, Pondrom said. But she said doctors would not speculate on what long-term medical attention the patient will need because of the problem.

The ailing nun is “surprisingly energetic, given her age and what she’s been through with the pneumonia and angioplasty,” said Bishop Robert Brom of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, who visited Mother Teresa on Saturday and Monday.

“She keeps talking about how Jesus expects this suffering for a reason, for the good of the church, for the success of her missionary work.”

Her spirits, Brom said, were “very, very high,” although she was upset because the hospitalization will force her to cancel appointments in Rome next week.

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Brom said Mother Teresa has, through her religious community in Tijuana, received word from Pope John Paul in Rome, “who immediately prayed for her and asked that his personal best wishes and promise of continued prayer be communicated back to her.”

Brom described her as “sitting up and alert.”

“When she saw me (on Monday), she said, ‘Oh, Bishop, it’s so good to have you come and see me. I hope I’m not causing you too much work.’ We prayed together, and I offered her my blessing.”

Brom said that, when he saw Mother Teresa on Saturday “she was hoping to be out early this week. Now, she just wants to be out as soon as possible. She wants to be on her way to Rome. And the doctors are trying to help her understand that she won’t meet that schedule.”

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In Los Angeles, the three professed brothers and four novices at the regional headquarters for brothers of the Missionaries of Charity celebrated a special Mass for Mother Teresa on Monday morning.

Known as the “Saint of the Gutters,” Mother Teresa gave up a position as convent teacher to care for people in Calcutta’s infamous slums.

In 1965, her Missionaries of Charity order was granted official recognition by Pope Paul VI as a society of pontifical right, enabling it to operate worldwide.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work “among the poorest of the poor” and wore a $1 blue-and-white sari to receive it.

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Her order now has about 3,000 nuns in 87 countries.

The Nobel laureate was bedridden in Calcutta in 1989 for a weak heart and high fever.

Sunday’s medical procedure was conducted by Drs. Patricia Aubanel and Paul Teirstein, who said afterward that the first two weeks following an angioplasty are the most critical because of the risk of an arterial closing or increased bleeding from required blood-thinning medication.

Mother Teresa had been in Tijuana since Dec. 11, the last stop of a worldwide visitation of local communities of the Missionaries of Charity. While there, she visited Los Angeles twice and complained between trips of feeling ill, Brom said. She was seen by Dr. Aubanel, who recommended hospitalization.

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Mother Teresa resisted further help at first, but at the urging of Bishop Emilio Berlie of Tijuana, she finally agreed to be seen, Brom said.


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