Doctors Perform Operation on Ailing Pope John Paul II, Suffering Flu Relapse, Needed Procedure to Help Him Breathe VATICAN CITY (Feb. 24) - Pope John Paul had a successful operation on Thursday to help him breathe more easily following a recurrence of acute respiratory problems, the Vatican said in a statement. "The operation ... ended successfully. The immediate post-operative progress is regular," the statement said. It said surgeons at Rome's Gemelli hospital had performed a tracheotomy on the Pontiff, cutting a small opening into his neck and windpipe to allow air to flow directly into the lungs. The operation lasted 30 minutes, starting at 8:20 p.m. and ending at 8:50 p.m. The Pope, who gave his consent for the operation, will spend the night in his hospital room, the statement added, implying he did not need to be treated in an intensive care ward. The 84-year-old Pope was rushed to hospital earlier on Thursday for the second time this month after suffering renewed breathing problems and a relapse of the flu. Medical experts said a tracheotomy was a simple operation but added that it would only be performed in a crisis. They warned that the Pope, who also suffers from Parkinson's disease, would now have even greater difficulty speaking.