ROME (AP) – Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was hospitalized Wednesday after falling and breaking his leg at a villa in a resort town on the Italian island of Sardinia, officials said.

Emergency service workers arrived early Wednesday at the home in exclusive Porto Rotondo where the 74-year-old Yeltsin was staying and took him to a local hospital, said Giuseppe Soro, director of the ambulance dispatch center in Sassari.

Yeltsin’s spokesman, Vladimir Shevchenko, told Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency the former president broke his thigh bone in a bad fall. Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a source close to Yeltsin as saying the former president left on his private jet Wednesday evening for Moscow and was expected to be hospitalized immediately.

“Given his age, it’s easy to break a femur,” said Soro, referring to the thigh bone.

The Italian news agency ANSA said Yeltsin was initially cared for by his bodyguards after he fell at the home at about 6 a.m.

Dr. Maria Serena Fenu, medical director of the San Giovanni di Dio hospital in nearby Olbia, said Yeltsin was treated there then taken elsewhere. She declined to release further information, citing privacy reasons.

A doctor in the hospital’s orthopedic department who said he was not authorized to have his name published said an X-ray revealed a broken thigh bone, and Yeltsin was taken to another hospital for surgery. He said he did not know which hospital.

It was unclear how serious Yeltsin’s break was, and the outcome of an operation also would depend on his general health.

There is a high death rate among people over 65 who need surgery after breaking a femur, said Dr. Todd Schlifstein, an orthopedist and rehab physician at New York University Medical Center’s Rusk Institute, who specializes in falls among the elderly.

“When you’re over 65, falls are very common and they can be catastrophic at times,” Schlifstein said.

The ensuing lack of mobility during recovery also can produce its own host of complications, including possible blood clots, surgical wound infections and pneumonia, he said.

“Surgery is a big, dramatic event that can open a lot of other doors to other problems,” Schlifstein said.

One of the most notable patients who had hip surgery after breaking a thigh bone was Pope John Paul II, who fell in his bathroom in 1994.

Dr. David Diduch, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Virginia Medical Center, said the high death rate often has to do with the patients’ other illnesses, such as heart, lung and kidney ailments.

The Russian Embassy in Rome referred questions to Yeltsin’s representatives in Moscow, who were not immediately available for comment.

Yeltsin, Russia’s first elected president after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, has kept a low profile since resigning Dec. 31, 1999, appearing only occasionally at tennis tournaments or to greet foreign officials.

During the final years of his presidency, he was dogged by health problems, retreating regularly to his country residence outside Moscow and spending days, and sometimes weeks, away from the Kremlin.

In retirement, he has concentrated on health-boosting regimens, traveling to China and other destinations for treatment.

Porto Rotondo is an exclusive resort on Sardinia’s Emerald Coast. Premier Silvio Berlusconi, among others, has a home nearby.

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