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Sen. Mark Kirk releases first photo since stroke, shows improvement

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk RehabilitatiInstitute Chicago (RIC) Center for Stroke Rehabilitation.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Center for Stroke Rehabilitation.

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:11AM

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) continues to show steady improvement since suffering a stroke in January, his doctors said Tuesday, as the senator released the first photo of himself since the stroke.

Dr. Richard L. Harvey, the medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Center for Stroke Rehabilitation, where Kirk has been receiving treatment, said Kirk has been “fully engaged” in an intense rehab program and is getting back into a normal routine.

“He is mentally sharp, and meets with his staff nearly every day to discuss policy issues and global current events,” Harvey said in a written statement. “Senator Kirk is working very hard in daily therapy sessions to increase his strength and mobility, and has walked more than 10 miles in total since his arrival at RIC. In addition he is climbing stairs and getting in and out of vehicles. We are quite pleased with his ongoing recovery.”

Doctors early on had warned that Kirk might never regain full use of his left arm and leg, and might have permanent facial paralysis and slurring of speech.

But friends and colleagues say Kirk has been determined and aggressive in his rehab. In their conversations with him, they say his voice sounds good. They say he appears determined to make a good recovery and return to being an active senator.

Kirk is participating in a research trial at RIC that will last several weeks, the hospital said Tuesday. The trial is focused on “improving gait pattern through an intense regimen of continuous walking,” the institute said.

The study involves more field work than conventional physical therapy: upright stepping performed over-ground, on a treadmill, or on stairs.

The institute explains: “Over-ground walking will consist of level walking at variable speeds, in multiple directions, with variable assistance or resistance to perform these tasks. Other tasks performed during over-ground training can include dual tasking, walking over uneven surfaces, or balance beam walking.

“Treadmill walking will also be performed at variable speeds, in multiple directions and with variable assistance or resistance.  Stair climbing will be performed in a staircase, or on a ‘stair treadmill.’  Heart rate and perceived exertion will be monitored throughout the training.”

Kirk fashions himself a moderate Republican who goes out of his way to co-sponsor legislation with Democrats. His stroke hit days after he returned from a tour of Poland with Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

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