SAN DIEGO — Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the 81-year-old missionary hospitalized 10 days ago for a life-threatening illness, has markedly improved and appears to be on the "right road to recovery," her doctors said Saturday.
Doctors at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation upgraded Mother Teresa's condition from serious to fair, saying she had responded well to procedures to treat congestive heart failure brought on by pneumonia. Physicians said there was improvement overnight.
Early Saturday, doctors at the La Jolla hospital found Mother Teresa sitting in a chair in her room overlooking the Pacific Ocean, reading and stroking rosary beads. She reported no more chest pain, ate a full breakfast--yogurt, tea and a muffin--and "looked a lot better," doctors said.
Doctors added that if the celebrated Nobel Peace Prize winner continues to get better, she could leave the hospital in a week but cautioned that "setbacks can happen" and that there is no timetable for her to leave.
Known for her charity work with the poor around the globe, Mother Teresa has received international attention since entering the hospital Dec. 26.
On Saturday, she shared with her doctors and nurses a telegram she received Friday from President Bush that wished her a speedy recovery, said Dr. Paul Teirstein, one of the doctors treating her. The hospital has been inundated with calls and visits from reporters and well-wishers, spokeswoman Sue Pondrom said.
Mother Teresa remains in an intensive care unit of the hospital, with a guard posted outside her room, Pondrom said. The hospital is paying for her stay.
Mother Teresa checked into the hospital after she resisted treatment last month for flu-like symptoms and her condition deteriorated into pneumonia. She had been in Tijuana, Mexico, visiting one of her missionaries as part of a worldwide tour.
The day after entering the hospital, suffering from congestive heart failure brought on by the pneumonia, Mother Teresa underwent angioplasty, a procedure to increase the flow of oxygen to her heart. It involves threading a small balloon device to enlarge the arteries. That treatment was successful, Teirstein said.
Initially, Mother Teresa responded slowly to antibiotics. She was also treated for an irregular heartbeat Friday. Though better Saturday, with her heart rhythm regular once again, she remains on a heart monitor and receives oxygen to help her breathe, doctors said.
It will not be until early next month, doctors said, that they will know for sure whether Mother Teresa's body has accepted the heart procedure. When she leaves the hospital, Dr. Patricia Aubanel said, she will have to follow some common-sense rules--eating right, wearing a coat in the cold and taking her medicine.
In the meantime, doctors said she is enjoying her view of the ocean and sifting through all her cards and letters. "She looked at me and smiled, and said: 'I read lots and lots of letters,' " including the telegram from Bush, Aubanel said, adding that she is in "very good spirits."
Mother Teresa also has become aware that the hospital is staging a daily briefing for the media and found it unusual that reporters were interested in what she eats, what she wears, where she sits in her room, whom she talks to and other details of her hospital stay, Teirstein said.
He said Mother Teresa told him about the reporters: "Such funny questions. Well, they have good intent. Still, they're very funny questions."