Japan's emperor, 78, has successful heart surgery

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By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's 78-year-old Emperor Akihito underwent successful heart bypass surgery Saturday and should begin rehabilitation in a few days, doctors and palace officials said.

After the operation, Akihito was being monitored in an intensive care unit at the University of Tokyo Hospital, his surgeons said.

"The operation went smoothly as planned," Minoru Ono, a University of Tokyo Hospital heart surgeon, told a news conference with three other doctors. "We confirmed a sufficient blood flow back in the arteries."

Akihito was scheduled for the surgery after tests last weekend showed his heart condition had worsened from a year ago. As planned, two of the three coronary arteries were repaired using a blood vessel from another part of his body, Ono said.

He said the emperor nodded to him when asked how he felt while leaving the operating room, still waking up from the anesthetics.

Akihito even said "It feels good" when his wife, Empress Michiko, and their daughter Sayako gently massaged his hands as they visited his intensive care unit, Ono recounted.

Akihito is expected to be released in about two or three weeks if there are no complications, the palace official said.

The soft-spoken Akihito holds no political power but is extremely popular with Japanese people as a symbol of the nation.

Although he is still generally in good health, Akihito has developed various health problems in recent years, including pneumonia late last year and prostate cancer in 2003. He has cut back on public duties but still appears regularly at events.

Asked if the surgery was a success, Amano said: "I'd like to save the word success until the emperor returns to his official duties and everyday life that he had hoped. We will continue to provide treatment, and we all look forward to the day."

Ono said Akihito can start taking solid food on Sunday, and can get out of bed and stand up by Monday and return to his royal unit at the hospital later that day. By midweek, Akihito should be on rehabilitation programs so he can return to the palace as soon as possible, Ono said.

Palace doctor Ichiro Kanazawa said Akihito would regain physical strength to return to more active life, even some exercise and palace rituals.

Akihito in the past has often been seen playing tennis, enjoying music and taking walks with his wife Michiko.

"We expect the emperor can play tennis again, but when it comes to official duties, he is not so young, and he is not going to get any younger," Kanazawa said. "So we still need to make special considerations."

Akihito performed his regular duties Thursday, including meeting with four Japanese ambassadors and elementary school officials. Crown Prince Naruhito, Akihito's son, will perform such duties while the emperor is in hospital.

A special notebook has been set up at the palace for get-well messages, but the emperor does not accept gifts or flowers, the palace said.

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