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U.S. diplomatic cables say Castro rejected colostomy

By Shasta Darlington, CNN
Fidel Castro is said to have rejected colon surgery in 2006, according to a medical source in U.S. diplomatic cables.
Fidel Castro is said to have rejected colon surgery in 2006, according to a medical source in U.S. diplomatic cables.
  • The decision risked Castro's life, the cables say
  • The cables were published by WikiLeaks
  • A colostomy is sometimes recommended to treat diverticulitis
  • Cuba
  • Fidel Castro

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro initially rejected a colostomy procedure when he fell ill in 2006, putting his own life at risk, according to an unnamed medical source quoted by U.S. diplomats in cables released by WikiLeaks.

The cables were made available by the Spanish newspaper El Pais Thursday.

In one cable dated March 16, 2007, almost eight months after Castro was forced to cede power to his younger brother, the head of the American diplomatic mission quotes unnamed sources as saying the elder Castro fell ill on a short domestic flight after a long day of giving speeches.

"They had to land urgently once they knew of his bleeding," the cable says. "He was diagnosed with diverticulitis of the colon."

Four of the five diplomatic missives were sent from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Castro's health has long been considered a state secret, and for months there was wild speculation about his illness. But by the time the March cable was written, it was widely believed that he was suffering from diverticulitis.

The same cable quotes an unnamed medical source as saying that Castro "won't die immediately, but will progressively lose his faculties and become ever more debilitated until he dies."

The author of the cable, U.S. diplomat Michael Parmly, adds, "We are missing too many variables to be able to predict accurately how many more months Fidel Castro will live."

More than three years later, Castro is alive and well. He has not resumed power, but he began to appear fairly regularly in public in July to deliver speeches on global affairs, particularly about his fear of a looming nuclear war.

The cable also says that it was Castro himself who initially rejected a colostomy, a procedure in which one end of the large intestine is surgically cut and brought outside the body through the abdomen. A bag attached to the opening collects waste.

The decision was backed by Castro's main doctor, the cable said, but opposed by the rest of the medical team.

"Fidel Castro, capriciously, did not permit the colostomy," the missive said.

Diverticulitis is the swelling of pouches in the lining of the intestine that are formed as a result of abnormal pressure in the colon. A colostomy is sometimes recommended in the treatment of diverticulitis if the colon wall is perforated or if an abscess is formed.

Instead, the cables said, Castro chose to undergo an operation to remove the infected part of the colon and splice it back together.

"With the passage of time, as the colon was infected, the operation collapsed and the reattached part separated. They had to operate again, but found a fistula," according to the cable. A fistula is an abnormal connection between two separate parts inside that body that can occur due to inflammation, injury or infection, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Castro himself has since said that he was on death's door and had to undergo various operations because the first one didn't work.