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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 30) - Nearly a month after he left the island for California, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Governor Benigno R. Fitial is extending his medical leave to December.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said the governor continues to undergo close medical examinations in preparation for his surgery to correct his lumbar spinal stenosis—the narrowing of the root cell in the spinal canal.

"There’s been a delay (in his operation) due to the change of hospital, but (the governor) should be back by December," said Reyes.

After the surgery, the governor is to recuperate for at least four weeks.

Fitial was supposed to undergo his back surgery at the Stanford Hospital but the administration said his medical insurance firm ordered him moved to the UCLA Medical Center.

Reyes said the governor, who will turn 61 next month, will be operated on by one of the top spine surgeons in the United States and in one of the country’s best hospitals.

"He is well taken care of. UCLA [University of California-Los Angeles] has a huge facility. It has the technology and expertise. The governor will be in the best hands in the world," he said.

He said the governor has left the Stanford Court hotel in San Francisco and moved to another hotel near the UCLA Medical Center.

Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Villagomez will remain the acting governor until Fitial’s return.

Villagomez, however, is scheduled to leave the island to attend the two-day 2006 Island Business Conference in Hawai΄i, which will be held from November 13 to 14.

If the governor and lieutenant governor are both off-island, the Senate president - Joseph M. Mendiola, Covenant-Tinian - serves as acting governor.

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