Illinois Sen. Kirk suffers stroke, undergoes surgery

January 23, 2012

The Associated Press and CityRoom

(AP/File)

Sen. Mark Kirk underwent surgery Monday after tests revealed he had suffered a stroke, according to a statement from the Illinois Republican's office.

Kirk, 52, checked himself into Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois over the weekend and was later transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where tests showed that he had suffered a stroke, the statement said.

In a press conference Monday, the neurosurgeon who operated on Kirk, Richard Fessler, said the senator was becoming "less responsive" and "was beginning to deteriorate neurologically" after the transfer on Sunday. Surgery was necessary to stop the deterioration, Fessler said. Doctors removed a 4" x 8" portion of Kirk's skull to relieve swelling on the right side of his brain, which is not the side that affects speech. Fessler said he is "hopeful" that Kirk will be able to use his left leg, but it will be "very difficult" to regain use of his left arm. The doctor's prognosis is "very good" for a full mental recovery, but "not great" for a full physical recovery. Fessler said recovery will likely take weeks and months, not days.

"The surgery was successful. 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 a statement attributed to a spokesperson for Kirk released Monday morning.

The statement from Kirk's office said he had a tear in the carotid artery on the right side of his neck. Carotid arteries carry blood to the brain; carotid tears are a common cause of strokes, which can involve blood clots traveling to the brain and causing bleeding there.

Meanwhile, Illinois politicians offered an outpouring of support after news of Kirk's stroke broke late Monday morning.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Kirk's colleague in the senate, said he was "stunned" to hear of Kirk's stroke.

"I have reached out to his staff and offered to do anything I can to help with his Senate duties," Durbin said in a statement. "Loretta and I will keep Mark and his family in our prayers.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, meanwhile, drew on Kirk's military career in offering his support.

"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," Quinn said in a statement.

And Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said he was "schocked and saddened" when he heard about Kirk's stroke, but said he was confident the senator would soon "be back at full force."

Kirk was elected to the Senate in 2010, winning the seat formerly held by President Barack Obama after a hard-fought election that often focused on questions about his own honesty.