By Ilaria Polleschi
MILAN (Reuters) - Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was alert, lucid and cracking jokes less than 24 hours after undergoing open heart surgery at the age of 79, his doctors said on Wednesday.
The center-right politician and media mogul had an aortic valve replaced on Tuesday after suffering what his doctors said was a life-threatening cardiac disorder last week.
Berlusconi, who has been forced by legal problems to take a back seat in politics but who remains an important figure on the center-right, has worn a pacemaker for the past decade.
Alberto Zangrillo, Berlusconi's personal doctor, told reporters that the four-times prime minister was making jokes shortly after waking up from sedation on Wednesday morning.
"He was immediately back to his good old self. After not even 30 seconds he was already cracking jokes, in this case he was full of praise for the assistance received overnight by one of the nurses in the intensive care unit," he said.
He said that Berlusconi, who has survived numerous diplomatic gaffes, court cases and controversy - including allegations he had sex with an underage girl and hosted orgies - had told the nurse she could work for one of his TV channels.
Ottavio Alfieri, the surgeon who operated on Berlusconi, said the post-operative acute phase was going well. "I have just seen him, he is lucid, he is in perfect condition," he said.
Berlusconi's younger brother Paolo told the TV channel of soccer club AC Milan, owned by family holding Fininvest, that he had a "difficult moment" overnight but then woke up "in the best possible post-operative condition" on Wednesday.
Zangrillo denied that there had been any problem during the night and said that Berlusconi would leave intensive care on Thursday as planned.
He had said last week that Berlusconi was in a very serious condition when he was taken to the hospital but was expected to recover fully from the surgery within a month.
Berlusconi's once-powerful group of parties has become increasingly fragmented in recent years, mostly since he lost his grip on power in 2011.
His Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party suffered mixed fortunes in local elections this month, with his candidate for Rome mayor finishing fourth.
(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Louise Ireland)