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US Surgeon Predicts 'Full Recovery' for Castro


Cuban state television has aired a video showing President Fidel Castro meeting this week with his Venezuelan counterpart and ally, Hugo Chavez. Many viewers said Mr. Castro looked somewhat stronger than in October, when pictures of him were last released. VOA asked a respected gastric surgeon what he thinks the new video indicates. Sean Maroney has our report.

New images of Cuban President Fidel Castro show him upright and talking with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The video contained the first images of the ailing president seen by the Cuban public in three months.

Cuban state television aired the 10-minute video clip Tuesday, saying it was taped Monday in Havana.

Pictures of Mr. Castro were last released in July. Less than a week later, Cuba released an announcement in Mr. Castro's name, saying he had undergone surgery after "an acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding." The president's statement said he had temporarily ceded power to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.

Images of President Castro have been scarce since then, prompting speculation about the state of his health.

Dr. Fred Finelli is president of the medical staff at the Washington Hospital Center. He is a surgeon who has operated many times on patients with symptoms similar to those suffered by the Cuban leader.

Dr. Finelli examined the new videotape at VOA's request Wednesday. Although he has never seen Mr. Castro in person, the physician was asked for his impression of the president's appearance, compared to that of the patients he treats here.

"He looked weak; he was not as robust as he is. He certainly wasn't making a lot of hand gestures and speaking loudly, as he has in basically every other thing I've seen of him. But he looked good. He looked to me like a patient who is recovering."

The American surgeon said he tends to agree with news reports that the 80-year-old Mr. Castro most likely was being treated for diverticulitis -- inflamed sacs on the walls of the intestines or stomach. The danger is that the inflamed tissue might rupture in the abdominal cavity.

Dr. Finelli says diverticulitis is very common in older people, and could account for the Cuban president's long absence. But he adds: "If it's diverticulitis, and he's gotten this far, he'll probably make a full recovery, from what I've seen."

The surgeon cautions that cancer can sometimes mimic the symptoms of diverticulitis. He adds, however, that there is no specific evidence of this in Mr. Castro's case.

“The great unknown is: Is it diverticulitis? If it was a cancer, it could act like other cancers and catch up with him eventually."

The Cuban government treats President Castro's health as a state secret, and has released scarcely any details of his illness or treatment. Earlier this month, a Spanish doctor [Garcia Sebrido] who examined Mr. Castro in December, said he is making a "slow but progressive" recovery from surgery.