Controversial "Three Cups" author has heart surgery

HELENA, Montana Fri Jun 10, 2011 2:48am EDT

Greg Mortenson poses with Sitara ''Star'' schoolchildren in Wakhan, northeastern Afghanistan in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Central Asia Institute/Handout

Greg Mortenson poses with Sitara ''Star'' schoolchildren in Wakhan, northeastern Afghanistan in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters March 11, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Central Asia Institute/Handout

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HELENA, Montana (Reuters) - "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson, who is under fire over allegations he fabricated much of his story, is recovering from open heart surgery, a representative said on Thursday.

Mortenson, 53, underwent the surgery last week to repair a very large hole in his heart, or an atrial septal defect, said Anne Beyersdorfer, the acting executive director of Mortenson's Montana-based charity, the Central Asia Institute.

The operation also repaired an aneurysm, which is a bulge in a blood vessel. The author has suffered from hypoxia -- a condition marked by a lack of oxygen -- for the past year, Beyersdorfer said.

Mortenson's book chronicles his unsuccessful attempt to climb the mountain K2 in South Asia and his encounter with impoverished Pakistani villagers who he said inspired him to build schools and other projects in the region.

In April, the CBS news program "60 Minutes" challenged the credibility of biographical details in "Three Cups of Tea" and said Mortenson's institute was largely used to promote the 2006 book. The institute was founded to build schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Among other things, the "60 Minutes" piece disputed Mortenson's account of being kidnapped in Pakistan's Waziristan region in 1996.

Last month, Mortenson was sued for fraud in a class-action case accusing him of fabricating much of his story in "Three Cups of Tea," although the lawsuit did not give examples of purported fabrications.

The two named plaintiffs are Jean Price of Great Falls, Montana, and Michele Reinhart of Missoula.

Separately, in April Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said he had opened an inquiry into Mortenson's Central Asia Institute to ensure its charitable assets are used for the right purposes. The inquiry is still open, said Judy Beck, a spokeswoman for Bullock.

Mortenson's representative Beyersdorfer said, "We are very fortunate he was able to get comprehensive care he needed to repair his heart, so he can be in good health to get back to work and address media misinformation."

The operation on Mortenson's heart was conducted at an undisclosed facility outside of Montana. He will be in recovery for weeks and plans to return to work afterward, Beyersdorfer said.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis)

(This article has been modified to correct the last paragraph to say Mortenson will be recovering for weeks, not three weeks)

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