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LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley was "resting comfortably" Wednesday at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous growth in his colon.
"We expect that he will recover rapidly and resume his normal duties soon," said spokesman Dale Bills.
LDS Church headquarters has been flooded with heart-warming get-well wishes from the Mormon faithful and others, church officials said.
Many Mormons are naturally concerned for Hinckley, the man they consider "prophet, seer, and revelator," who became president of the 12 million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1995. To more than 3 million Latter-day Saints who have joined the ranks since then, the 95-year-old Hinckley is the only Mormon leader they have ever known.
Before this week, Hinckley had only spent one night in the hospital, taking care of a sick child.
He has slowed down a bit, sometimes using a cane, had a heart-regulating pacemaker installed, and acknowledged last summer that he has diabetes. Still, Hinckley has been remarkably vigorous as he has traveled the globe, meeting with members, leaders, diplomats and the media.
Several previous LDS presidents, however, have not been so fortunate.
Consider the case of Spencer W. Kimball, who led the LDS Church from 1973 to 1985. He had surgery and latter cobalt radiation treatments for cancer of the larynx in the 1960s which left him with a gravely, Yoda-voice. In 1973, he had open-heart surgery; in 1979 he had a small stroke, the effects of which lasted only a few days. Later that year, Kimball had brain surgery for subdural hematoma, or bleeding in the brain. In the next two years, he had two more brain surgeries for the same condition. In his last years, he was nearly blind from glaucoma.
"Starting in 1981, Dad's activities were limited," said Edward Kimball, author of the recent biography, Lengthen Your Stride: The Administration of Spencer W. Kimball. "He moved to Hotel Utah [now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City] where there could be security and nursing on hand."
In April 1982, Kimball stood and spoke extemporaneously at the church's General Conference.
"His voice was labored as he struggled for words," Edward Kimball recalled. "He spoke about his great love for the people of the church and of this valley. He concluded with, 'All is well. God bless you.' '' Kimball attended at least one session of the semi-annual conferences until he died in 1985, but he never spoke publicly again.
Because the LDS presidency falls to the longest-serving member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, most men are quite elderly when they take the church's helm. Thus many have suffered health problems and declining vitality which often accompanies old age.
David O. McKay, who led the church from 1951 to 1970, was housebound and incapacitated during his last few years, as was Ezra Taft Benson, president from 1985 to 1994.
Howard W. Hunter suffered ill health for a number of years before becoming LDS Church president in 1994. He fought off depression when his wife, Clara, died in 1983. He was in a coma for three weeks after gall-bladder surgery in 1992; he died at 87 in 1995, after prostate cancer had spread to his bones.
Hinckley was a relative youngster when he was named Kimball's counselor in 1981; the other two counselors in the governing First Presidency were in worse health than the president.
The 71-year-old Hinckley almost immediately became "the dominant member of presidency who carried the load in what I consider a marvelous way," Edward Kimball recalls. "Since then, he's been the effective leader of the church. That's a long time to be in charge."