JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela underwent a successful surgery to remove gallstones Saturday, the government said, as the 94-year-old antiapartheid icon is still recovering from a lung infection.
Doctors treating Mandela waited to perform the endoscopic surgery as they wanted to first attend to his lung ailment, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement. Mandela has been hospitalized since Dec. 8.
In the procedure, a patient usually receives sedatives and an anesthetic to allow a surgeon to put an endoscope down the throat, authorities say. The surgeon then can remove the gallstones, which are small, crystal-like masses that can cause a person tremendous pain. "The procedure was successful and Madiba is recovering," Maharaj said, using Mandela's clan name as many do in South Africa as a sign of affection.
Occasionally, a patient who undergoes the same medical procedure Mandela just had may need to have an additional surgery to have the gallbladder removed, according to medical experts.
However, Maharaj's statement offered no other details about what additional care Mandela may require, nor did it suggest when he could be released from the hospital.
Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, was admitted last week to a hospital in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, the government has said. At first, officials said Mandela was undergoing tests and later they acknowledged he had been diagnosed with a lung infection.
The Nobel laureate has a history of lung problems, after falling ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the end of his 27 years in prison before his release and subsequent presidency.
While doctors said at the time the disease caused no permanent damage to his lungs, medical experts say tuberculosis can cause problems years later for those infected.