NEW YORK – Cardinal Edward Egan began Holy Week in a hospital and preparing to receive a pacemaker as a sudden illness threatened to keep him from celebrating Good Friday and Easter Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral before retiring next week.
Egan missed celebrating the last Palm Sunday Mass of his nine-year tenure as head of New York's Roman Catholic Archdiocese and was waiting Monday to learn when the pacemaker would be installed.
"We'll just have to continue to take it day by day and see what the doctors indicate," archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. "The cardinal will be following their advice."
Zwilling said no date had been set either for Egan to be released from the hospital or for the pacemaker to be implanted. Egan was improving, but his stomach was still giving him problems Monday, Zwilling said.
The 77-year-old Egan is retiring April 15 after leading the archdiocese since 2000. He will be succeeded by Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Egan was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital on Saturday complaining of stomach pains. Doctors discovered a previously unknown heart condition in the course of administering tests, Zwilling said.
"The need for the pacemaker was found as they were putting him through tests after he got to the hospital," the spokesman said.
A pacemaker is a small device placed under the skin to help control abnormal heart rhythms. Implantation of a pacemaker is a routine procedure, and patients usually are discharged the following day.
"The recovery is short," said Dr. Bruce Lerman, chief of cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "They're usually fully functioning unless there are other complicating issues."
Zwilling said Egan had not had heart trouble before. It was not known if the stomach ailment was linked to the heart condition.
Doctors originally planned to install the pacemaker Sunday, but the procedure was postponed.
Zwilling said Egan was disappointed not to be presiding over services during the most solemn time in the Christian calendar — including Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, which commemorates Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.
"What he really felt bad about was missing Palm Sunday at St. Patrick's," Zwilling said. "He looks forward to this time of year, to really being with the people at St. Patrick's. He still hopes that he might be able to be there for some of it."
Egan had polio as a youngster and in recent years has suffered from weakness in the legs attributed to post-polio syndrome.
But Zwilling said Egan has rarely missed work for health reasons except when he had knee-replacement surgery in 2006.
The New York archdiocese serves 2.5 million Catholics in about 400 parishes in New York City and its northern suburbs.