Ashcroft expected to recover from surgery

Attorney general had gallbladder removed after severe case of pancreatitis

March 10, 2004|By Richard B. Schmitt | Richard B. Schmitt,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Doctors removed U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's gallbladder yesterday in a 90-minute procedure that they pronounced successful, but which could keep him from his duties for at least another week or two.

Ashcroft, 61, was expected to remain at George Washington University Hospital for four or five more days, extending a stay that began last Thursday when he was admitted to intensive care.

He complained of possible stomach flu but was diagnosed with a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis, an abdominal condition that in some cases can be lethal.

The Justice Department declined to say when Ashcroft would return to work, but some medical experts said he probably wouldn't feel completely well until a week or two after leaving the hospital.

On Monday, the department canceled his appointments for the week, including an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee to discuss the Justice Department's fiscal 2005 budget request.

Under department regulations, James Comey, the deputy attorney general, is designated to act on Ashcroft's behalf in his absence.

At a hospital news conference, Ashcroft's doctors said they expected that he would make a full recovery.

They said he would have to avoid fatty foods to compensate for the loss of his gallbladder, which stores and regulates the flow of bile, which aids in digesting fat.

Dr. Bruce Abell, Ashcroft's surgeon, said the attorney general tolerated the laparoscopic procedure "very well" and was in "guarded" condition, being treated with painkillers and antibiotics.

"Long term, he should have a complete recovery," Abell said.

Medical experts said the expected timing of Ashcroft's release indicated that doctors felt he had turned the corner on the underlying pancreatic problem.

Removing the gallbladder is standard treatment for patients with his condition, which results when gallstones migrate and block an opening into the small intestine, causing the pancreas to become inflamed.

It is removed because of concern that other stones in the gallbladder will cause recurring blockages. Abell said doctors detected several other gallstones, which form from the buildup of bile and other chemicals.

In most cases, people who have gallbladders removed using the laparoscopic procedure are able to leave the hospital in a day, but Ashcroft's was complicated by the painful and dangerous pancreatic disease.

"When he goes home, he will still want to take a week to hang out and recover," said Jacques Van Dam, clinical chief of gastroenterology and director of endoscopy at Stanford University Medical Center.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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