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Update: Curry Surgery Preempts House of Bishops Meeting

August 28 update: The presiding bishop’s pending surgery has caused the cancellation of an event that would have brought more than 100 bishops and many of their spouses to the Dominican Republic for a weeklong meeting and retreat. The gathering was scheduled for September 19-26 in Juan Dolio, a resort east of Santo Domingo on the southern coast of the island — beginning less than two weeks after the September 8 surgery. “While my medical team does not expect complications, it is where our minds will be focused,” Curry said in an August 28 letter to the bishops. The bishops will conduct their business online instead. 

By Kirk Petersen

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry is resting at home after a brief hospitalization, and will undergo surgery to remove his right adrenal gland and an attached mass on September 8, the Church Center reported August 23.

His surgeon estimates he will need two to three weeks to recover before resuming a full work schedule. Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad said Curry is in good spirits, but she was unable to provide further information.

It will be the 70-year-old primate’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 — consistent with the estimate by Curry’s surgeon. 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).

AFib “is the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition is associated with a fivefold increase in an individual’s risk for stroke, and AFib-related strokes “tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes,” the CDC website states.

Curry is nearing the end of the eighth year of his nine-year term as presiding bishop, and is not eligible for reelection. His successor will be elected at General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in June 2024, and the successor will take office on November 1, 2024.

The presiding bishop’s demanding travel schedule has been cut back somewhat in the face of his medical issues. He missed three important events that he normally would have attended in June — two bishop consecrations and a meeting of the Executive Council. He then made limited appearances in early July at the Episcopal Youth Event and a multi-day revival.

In late September the House of Bishops, over which Curry presides, is scheduled to meet at a resort east of Santo Domingo, in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic.

The presiding bishop is canonically required to visit every diocese of the church, of which there are more than 100 — mostly in the United States, but also in countries as far-flung as Taiwan and South America. As primate of the Episcopal Church — one of the 42 autonomous provinces of the global Anglican Communion — the presiding bishop also routinely travels throughout the world.

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