Veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who is a US special envoy on the Afghanistan war, was in critical condition yesterday after undergoing more than 20 hours of surgery to fix a tear in the large artery that moves blood from the heart.
US President Barack Obama gave a hint of the seriousness of the situation, saying in a statement that he and first lady Michelle Obama were praying for Holbrooke’s recovery.
He called Holbrooke “a towering figure in American foreign policy” who has been a critical player in developing the administration’s policy on Afghanistan.
The veteran diplomat was meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the US Department of State on Friday when he suddenly collapsed and was taken to George Washington University Hospital a few blocks away. Holbrooke was seen walking under his own power to the department’s parking garage with a person from the Department of State’s medical office.
Doctors worked more than 20 hours on Friday and overnight to repair the tear in Holbrooke’s aorta. The surgery was completed on Saturday morning, Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
By Saturday evening, Holbrooke was described as being in stable, but critical condition.
His family as well as Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been with Holbrooke at the hospital.
Clinton visited on Friday night and again on Saturday.
“Richard Holbrooke is a towering figure in American foreign policy, a critical member of my Afghanistan and Pakistan team and a tireless public servant who has won the admiration of the American people and people around the world,” Obama said in a statement.
Obama said he had spoken to Holbrooke’s wife, Kati, on Saturday “and told her that Michelle and I are praying for Richard.”
“We continue to pray for his recovery and support his family in this difficult time,” the president said.
Hospital officials referred all questions about Holbrooke to the Departmentof State.
A torn aorta, or aortic dissection, is a condition in which a tear develops in the inner wall of the aorta allowing blood to enter the vessel wall and if not treated quickly can lead to rapid death.
As blood enters the wall it reduces blood flow just as if there were a severely bleeding wound, leading to possibly serious complications in the brain and other areas of the body, according to medical experts.
Even if the surgery has stabilized Holbrook’s condition, recovery can be expected to take considerable time.
Holbrooke’s illness comes just days before the Obama administration is expected to roll out the results of its review of the Afghanistan war and to push for Afghan forces to assume a greater role in the fighting.
It is a transition in which Holbrooke was expected to play an important part, having made many visits to the region and having developed personal relationships with leaders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The veteran diplomat is perhaps best known for helping broker the 1995 agreement that ended the war in Bosnia.