Surgeons replaced Spain’s King Juan Carlos’s left hip for the third time on Thursday, the latest in a string of operations that have raised questions about the future of his reign.
The 75-year-old king, who has appeared in public on crutches and looking frail this year, could be walking again unaided in no more than three months, surgeons said.
Visiting doctors from a US clinic fitted a permanent prosthesis in a two-and-a-half hour follow-up operation to replace a temporary one that was implanted on September 24 after the previous joint got infected.
“The infection has been overcome. The preliminary test results are positive and everything seems to indicate that things are going well,” the surgeon who led the operation, Miguel Cabanela, told reporters afterwards.
He and his US colleague Robert Trousdale, both from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, said the king, who is known as a keen sportsman, would get back on his feet but would have to avoid the more vigorous sports.
“He should be able to stand, walk eventually, hopefully without any ambulatory aids,” said Trousdale.
“He should not run, but he should get back to most activities that a 75-year-old man wants to get back to.”
The king earlier waved from the window of the car as he was driven up to Quiron University Hospital in the western suburbs of Madrid, and joked with waiting reporters about the cold weather.
Juan Carlos’s wife, Queen Sofia, 75, arrived smiling at the hospital to visit him after the operation.
Thursday’s procedure was his ninth operation since May 2010. He has had surgery on a benign lump in his lung, his right knee, an Achilles tendon, a slipped disc, two operations on his right hip and three on his left.
The sight of the king on crutches over recent months and the news of the latest operations had fuelled speculation of a possible abdication, but the palace flatly denied the king was considering that.
Juan Carlos is widely respected for his role in guiding Spain’s transition to democracy after the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.
But his image has since suffered from scandal.
A corruption investigation was opened in 2011 targeting his youngest daughter Cristina’s husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin.
Urdangarin has appeared in court on suspicion of embezzlement but denies any wrongdoing.
Cristina has been linked to Urdangarin’s business dealings and is herself being probed over her fiscal affairs, but she has not been summoned to court.
Neither she nor her husband have been charged with any crime.
The king also lost sympathy last year for going on an expensive elephant-hunting trip in Botswana, while Spaniards struggled through a recession.
He broke his right hip during the holiday and had to be flown home for surgery, after which he made an unprecedented public apology.
The hunting trip threw the spotlight on the royal family’s deluxe lifestyle and on the king’s friendship with Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a German aristocrat 28 years his junior, who reportedly accompanied him to Botswana.
The king’s health has sparked debate about what to do if he is incapacitated and whether he should hand over power to Felipe.
After the operation in September, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the government had no plans to try to regulate the prince’s role in case the king is incapable of ruling.
Felipe took his father’s place at a national day parade on October 12 for the first time and also replaced him at the annual Iberoamerican summit in Panama last month.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]