September 24 update: The Episcopal Church announced that the presiding bishop has been moved from intensive care to a standard hospital room, but provided no additional information.
By Kirk Petersen
Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry remained in intensive care two days after removal of an adrenal gland — typically a minimally invasive surgery taking two to three hours — and the church has provided few details about his condition.
“All I can confirm is that there is no further information available than what has been released,” said Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad, in response to a list of written questions.
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, vice president of the House of Bishops, provided a bit of context when she broke into the discussion at the HoB’s online meeting September 22.
“I’m going to interrupt for a moment to give an update on the presiding bishop,” she said, while chairing the meeting in Curry’s absence. “We now know that he remains in ICU, and will be there. But the presiding bishop is awake and talking and invites ongoing prayers. So we know that it is truly he that is speaking. So could we just take a moment to have the chaplains offer us a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for just a couple of minutes, as we rejoice in this moment that our brother is coming back to us.”
The church announced August 23 that the 70-year-old primate had been hospitalized briefly, and that surgeons planned to remove his right adrenal gland and an associated mass. The surgery originally was scheduled for September 8, but was postponed to September 20 — one day into the House of Bishops meeting, which concluded September 22. The meeting originally was scheduled to be held at a resort in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, but was moved online because of Curry’s pending surgery.
Curry addressed the meeting briefly when it convened September 19, saying “I’m going to be fine. Come what may, I’m gonna be fine. Because we have a God and God is real. So God willing, I fully expect, with a short recovery time, to be back full time.”
It was Curry’s third significant surgery since taking office in November 2015. Barely a month later, he underwent emergency brain surgery to relieve a subdural hematoma — a pooling of blood beside the brain. In 2018, his prostate was removed after prostate cancer was detected.
Adrenal glands are small glands located above each kidney. They produce a variety of hormones that regulate multiple bodily functions. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, surgeons perform an adrenalectomy when an adrenal gland is found to be cancerous, and/or is producing too much hormone.
In the absence of cancer, adrenal glands and accompanying masses usually are removed under general anesthesia through minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, leading to a recovery time of one to three weeks. The Johns Hopkins website says open surgery usually is necessary if cancer is present, because the gland and mass “must be completely removed in one piece to prevent spreading the disease throughout the abdomen.” This requires a much larger incision, and typically leads to a recovery time of four to six weeks after a hospital stay of four or five days. A person can function normally with one healthy adrenal gland.
Curry’s latest medical challenge flared up near the end of May, when he was briefly hospitalized for internal bleeding and treatment for a heart condition. He experienced two other episodes of irregular heartbeat during that hospitalization, and was being monitored and treated for atrial fibrillation (AFib).
His nine-year term of office ends November 1, 2024, and he is not eligible for reelection. His successor will be elected at the General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in June 2024.