Much has been made about the many firsts Jorge Mario Bergoglio represents as the new pope: the first South American pope, the first Jesuit pope. He’s also the first pope with only one lung (most people know of). Pope Francis had one of his lungs removed as a teenager because of an infection. How much more difficult is life with only one lung?
About one-quarter more difficult. One might suspect that losing one of two lungs would cut respiratory capacity in half, but it doesn’t, because the human body has significant reserves. The surviving lung soon expands to compensate for its missing mate, and regular exercise speeds the process. Otherwise-healthy post-pneumonectomy patients possess about 70 to 80 percent of their pre-surgical respiratory function. Although strenuous exercise becomes more difficult, especially at high altitude, and climbing stairs might trigger shortness of breath slightly more quickly, that deficit is hardly noticeable during ordinary activities. One-lunged runners have even completed marathons.