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Sen. Mark Kirk has stroke, could have problems with left arm, leg

Dr. Richard Fessler neurosurgedescribes stroke thU.S. Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill  suffered from is being treated for Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Richard Fessler, neurosurgeon, describes the stroke that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill suffered from and is being treated for at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He said that a 4-inch by 8-inch section of his skull was removed to reduce swelling on his brain. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 24, 2012 12:49PM



U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had a stroke over the weekend and underwent “successful” surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he is recovering, doctors said.

“Sen. Kirk has suffered a stroke to the right side of his brain, which I believe will affect his ability to move his left arm and possibly his left leg, and possibly will involve some facial paralysis,” Dr. Richard Fessler, the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery to reduce brain swelling on the 52-year-old senator, said at a Monday news conference.

“Fortunately, the stroke was not on the left side of the brain, in which case it would affect his ability to speak, understand and think. We are very hopeful that when we get through all the recovery, all those functions will be intact.”

Fessler also said Kirk’s recovery would be a “long haul.”

Elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving five terms in the U.S. House, Kirk underwent a three-hour surgery Sunday night in which doctors removed a 4-inch by 8-inch section of his skull to relieve swelling. It may be days before the swelling goes down and the skull section can be replaced, Fessler said.

However, Fessler said, “He is doing quite well. I am very happy with his current status.”

Kirk, who lives in north suburban Highland Park, was able to drive himself to Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Lake Forest after suffering the stroke on Saturday, “where doctors discovered a carotid artery dissection in the right side of his neck,” according to the senator’s office. He was transferred to downtown Northwestern, where further tests revealed he had suffered an ischemic stroke, staffers said.

Ischemic strokes, which result from an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain, account for about 87 percent of all stroke cases.

“We do not know what caused the stroke,” Fessler said. “His condition apparently began with a blockage of his carotid artery. At this point, the artery is completely occluded [blocked]. Part of the areas that are not getting blood from that artery will begin to get blood from other arteries. Other areas will not.

“The use of his left arm is going to be very difficult. I’m hopeful for the use of his left leg. Sen. Kirk’s job is cerebral, and I believe the functions required to do his job are going to be fine. Sen. Kirk is young, was very healthy and in good shape, and he’s very strong. All of these things are in his favor,” Fessler said, adding that the senator will have weeks and months of rehab ahead toward recovery.

Ischemic strokes cause swelling in the brain, vs. hemorrhagic strokes, where there is bleeding. Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking, blurred vision, dizziness and headache, according to the American Stroke Association.

“He was having some dizziness and perhaps some difficulty with headache,” Fessler said of Kirk’s symptoms before checking himself into the hospital. By the time he arrived at Northwestern, he was going downhill fast. “He was becoming less responsive. He began to deteriorate neurologically,” necessitating the surgery, said Fessler.

Kirk, who is divorced, started out in Washington as a member of then-U.S. Rep. John Edward Porter’s staff in 1984, spent 10 years in the U.S. House before winning the seat formerly held by President Barack Obama in a close race against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. He is also an officer in the Navy Reserves.

In an issued statement, Kirk’s family said, “We are very grateful for the excellent treatment and care provided by the doctors and their medical teams at both Lake Forest Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. We are equally grateful for the love and support of our family and friends. We are very encouraged by the prognosis.

“Mark has always shown great courage and resilience and we are confident that the fighter in him will prevail.”

Republicans and Democrats alike on Monday offered Kirk their best wishes for his recovery.

“I am extremely distressed by the news that my friend Mark Kirk is hospitalized for emergency medical treatment,” GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in a statement. “ I wish him a speedy recovery and a swift return to the U.S. Senate chamber, so he can continue his important work for the people of Illinois and all the people of the United States.”

 In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said: “Senator Kirk and I have served on different sides of the aisle, but the entire City of Chicago is by his side today. He remains in our thoughts and prayers as he recovers.”

Gov. Pat Quinn said: “Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the senator and his family as we wish him a swift and strong recovery. We can all take comfort knowing that as a Navy commander, Sen. Kirk knows how to fight and he will fight through this to return to his work on behalf of the people of Illinois as quickly as possible.”

“It’s hard to imagine that anything could slow him down for long,” U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) said. “All of us in the delegation are pulling for his full and speedy recovery.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Kirk and his family today.”

Sen. John McCain tweeted that his “thoughts and prayers” are with his colleague and wished him “a speedy recovery.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet



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