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Saudi King’s New York Back Surgery Successful, Royal Court Says

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Nov. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabian King Abdullah had “successful surgery” in New York yesterday to remove a blood clot and adjust a slipped disk, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said, citing a statement from the Royal Court in Riyadh.

“A blood clot was removed, a slipped disk was adjusted, and an affected vertebral body was stabilized,” the statement posted yesterday on the Embassy’s website said. “May God the Almighty protect the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and grant him health and a speedy recovery.”

Abdullah arrived in New York on Nov. 23 from Saudi Arabia for the treatment. A spokeswoman for New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, where the surgery took place, couldn’t be reached for comment on the report.

The New York surgeons probably removed the herniated disk and performed a lumbar fusion, said Michael Schafer, chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. A lumbar fusion involves welding two pieces of bone together to stabilize the vertebrae, he said.

A herniated disk that is pressing on nerves can make it difficult for patients to walk, Schafer said. In older patients, the resulting inactivity may cause blood clots, he said.

A surgeon is likely to opt for a minimally invasive micro-procedure that lets patients spend as little as one day recovering in the hospital, he said.

“Recovery should be the same whether you’re 86 or 26,” said Schafer, who wasn’t involved in the king’s medical care. “Once you relieve the pressure, a nerve has the potential to recover and the pain should dissipate.”

He described the New York hospital as a “well-respected, high-volume medical center” for this procedure.

Saudi Succession

The 86-year-old monarch’s treatment in the U.S. has raised the issue of succession in the world’s largest oil exporter. Abdullah, who has been king since 2005, delegated management of the country’s affairs to Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, his half-brother, during his absence, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said Nov. 22.

Two other half-brothers -- Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, the 76-year-old interior minister, and Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, the governor of Riyadh -- may be additional candidates for the throne. Saudi law requires that the monarch be a son or grandson of the kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz Al Saud, who died in 1953.

Crown Prince Sultan, who has traveled frequently in the past year for health care, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 21 after spending several months in Morocco, SPA said. Sultan, born in 1928, has been defense minister for almost five decades.

After the Saudi Royal Court issued a statement Nov. 12 that King Abdullah suffered from a herniated disk and had been advised by doctors to rest, the monarch appointed a son, Prince Mutaib, as head of the National Guard and relieved his 77-year-old brother, Prince Badr bin Abdulaziz, of his duties as deputy head of the National Guard, SPA said. Badr asked to step down for health reasons, the agency said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Peter S. Green in New York at psgreen@bloomberg.net; Pat Wechsler in New York at pwechsler@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bruce Stanley at bstanley5@bloomberg.net; Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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