Heart surgeons plan to operate on former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi next week to replace a defective aortic valve. The 79-year-old was admitted to hospital in Milan last Sunday.
Berlusconi's personal doctor Alberto Zangrillo said Thursday that substitution of the valve was the "only way to correct" the four-time prime minister's medical condition.
Tests at Milan's private San Raffaele clinic had shown that it was a severe case of aortic insufficiency, Zangillo told reporters, adding that Berlusconi should, however, emerge from the four-hour operation "better than before."
The surgeon said Berlusconi, who has worn a pacemaker since he was 70, had called him on Sunday and was told to go directly to hospital for tests.
"He obeyed me in part. He wanted to exercise his right to vote and he only came to us in the afternoon," Zangillo said, adding that untreated, Berlusconi had "risked dying."
"He was in a really serious, worrying condition and he knew it," Zangrillo said. "For a man who wants to live to be 130, this is a very unpleasant jolt."
The operation carries a 2-per-cent mortality risk, but if Berlusconi had refused it he would face a one-in-ten chance of dying before the end of the year, the doctor added.
The billionaire and media mogul no longer holds public office as the result of a 2013 tax fraud conviction. As head of his Forza Italia party he had been active in Italy's local elections.
His party suffered mixed fortunes in Sunday's polls, with his candidate to become mayor in Rome coming a lowly fourth.
Voting rights withheld
On Sunday, Berlusconi was seen posing for pictures and cracking jokes with a group of young supporters outside a Roman polling station.
It was the first time he had voted since completion of his punishment that had deprived him of voting rights.
Berlusconi has twice been at the San Raffaele clinic: in December to replace a heart pacemaker which he had had since 2006, and in March for cataract surgery.
The billionaire's medical history also includes a 1997 operation to remove prostate cancer.
A party spokesman had said Berlusconi's condition was not life-threatening.
ipj/bw (Reuters, AP, dpa)