South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on Saturday underwent a successful procedure to remove gallstones, a week after he was admitted to hospital for a lung infection, the office of the president said.
The 94-year-old was being treated at a private hospital in the capital Pretoria. Initial tests revealed he was suffering from a recurring lung infection.
“The medical team decided to attend to a lung infection before determining when to attend to the gallstones”, a statement from the presidency said.
The former president underwent a procedure via endoscopy to have the gallstones removed, the statement said.
“The procedure was successful and Madiba is recovering,” it added, using the clan name by which Mandela is affectionately known.
Mandela was previously hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection in January 2011, when he was kept for two nights before being released for home-based care and intense medical monitoring.
Mandela has a long history of lung problems, dating back decades to when he contracted tuberculosis in prison.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the country to democracy in 1994 was flown from his rural home village of Qunu to Pretoria on December 8.
It was not clear when Mandela was moved to the private hospital from the One Military facility, the country’s top military healthcare centre, where government officials initially said Mandela was being treated.
The Mediclinic Heart Hospital, where he is currently being cared for, bills itself as the first and “only hospital of its kind — a private, specialised heart hospital — in South Africa.”
A French hospital doctor said having gallstones removed could cause additional stress on older people and the recovery period depends on the patient’s background.
“Recovery can be long if the patient is taking medicine or has a complicated medical background,” said Frederic Aubrun, an anaesthesia expert for elderly people.
“It can take only a few days if there aren’t complications and the extraction procedure was quick,” he added.
According to Aubrun, the procedure sometimes involves the removal of the gallbladder to reduce the risk of recurrence, but this wasn’t mentioned in Mandela’s case.
The presidency appealed for privacy for Mandela and his family. Local and international media have been camped outside his home and the hospital.
News of Mandela’s hospitalisation always causes panic among South Africans, as the elderly statesman is hardly seen in public.
Television images earlier this year showed the tall, grey-haired icon seated on a couch at his rural home, surrounded by grandchildren.
Mandela stepped down from office in 1999 after serving one term, in 2004 he announced his retirement from public life, but continued to make a few public appearances.
His last public appearance was in 2010, during the final match of the FIFA World Cup.