U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois suffered a stroke that probably will leave him with permanent physical damage, his surgeon said.
Doctors removed an 8-by-4-inch section from the right side of Kirk’s skull during surgery today to relieve swelling around his brain, said Dr. Richard Fessler, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, during a news conference. Kirk, a 52-year-old Republican, had checked himself into another hospital two days earlier and was transferred.
“He was beginning to deteriorate neurologically, so that is what forced our hand,” Fessler said.
The artery to the right side of Kirk’s brain is fully blocked, though some blood vessels may partially compensate for the loss, Fessler said. The surgeon said it will be “very difficult” for Kirk to use his left arm again, while he is more “hopeful” for the use of the senator’s left leg.
Kirk was elected in 2010 to the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. He previously served five terms in the U.S. House and also rose to the position of commander in the Naval Reserve. He is a member of the Senate appropriations, banking and health-care committees.
Fessler said part of the treatment after surgery is to keep Kirk sedated, though when he is removed from sedation he “seems to know who’s around him” and is able to follow commands “briskly.”
As Kirk’s job as a senator is “cerebral,” Fessler said he may be able to return to work, though the recovery time would be measured in months and weeks, not days.
Kirk’s office released a statement earlier today that expressed confidence he will recover.
“Due to his young age, good health and the nature of the stroke, doctors are very confident in the senator’s recovery over the weeks ahead,” said the statement.
According to the statement, Kirk checked himself into Lake Forest Hospital on Jan. 21 and doctors found a carotid artery tear on the right side of his neck. He was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where tests indicated that he had suffered a stroke, Kirk’s office said.
Kirk’s family members, in a statement, said they are “very encouraged by the prognosis.”
“Mark has always shown great courage and resistance, and we are confident that the fighter in him will prevail,” the family said in the statement.
Recovery time depends on the severity of the stroke, said Jeffrey Thomas, medical director of interventional neuroradiology at the Comprehensive Stroke Care Center at the Washington Township Medical Foundation and Washington Hospital in Fremont, California. He didn’t have details of Kirk’s case and commented generally.
“Someone that young, they tend to have a better chance at the recovery, but initially their brains are also very much more reactive than someone who has begun to age,” Thomas said in a telephone interview, meaning younger stroke patients’ brains will swell more. “Patients can make unbelievable recoveries from such a thing and may be highly functional people.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, in a statement, wished Kirk a “swift and strong recovery” and said “he will fight through this to return to his work on behalf of the people of Illinois.”
Fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said in a statement he was “stunned” to learn about Kirk’s stroke and offered to “do anything I can to help with his Senate duties.”