Sen. Mark Kirk suffers stroke affecting left side

SOPHIA TAREEN and TAMMY WEBBER

CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk was in intensive care Monday after undergoing surgery to relieve swelling on his brain from a stroke that doctors said likely would make it "very difficult" for him to regain movement in his left arm and could result in facial paralysis.

But Dr. Richard Fessler at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where Kirk remained sedated in intensive care, said the Illinois Republican's chances for a full mental recovery are good. Doctors said Kirk appears to recognize those around him and is responding to commands, though it was unclear how long his recovery could take or whether full movement would be restored.

"We are very hopeful that when we get through all the recovery, all those functions will be intact," said Fessler, a neurosurgeon who performed the Sunday night surgery to remove a part of Kirk's skull. "This morning, he is doing quite well. I am very happy with his current status."

Kirk, 52, had reported feeling dizzy over the weekend checked himself into Lake Forest Hospital over the weekend before being transferred to Northwestern. Tests showed he had a tear in the carotid artery on the right side of his neck and had suffered a stroke.

Carotid arteries carry blood to the brain and carotid tears are a common cause of strokes in people in their 50s or younger.

Surgeons at Northwestern removed a 4-by-8-inch piece of Kirk's skull Sunday evening to alleviate pressure said Monday they hoped swelling would go down in the coming days. Fessler said the stroke that affected Kirk's left arm could possibly affect movement of his left leg and cause some facial paralysis.

Fessler said Kirk would undergo rehabilitation to regain movement to affected parts of his body, but added that the "the prospects for his full physical recovery, particularly on the left side of his body, are not great."

Though Fessler could not say when Kirk would be able to return to work, he described the senator as "young, very healthy and in good shape" and said he was hopeful of a full mental recovery.

"Sen. Kirk's job is cerebral, and I believe the functions required to do his job are going to be fine," Fessler said.

Kirk's family said in a statement that Kirk had "always shown great courage and resilience and we are confident that the fighter in him will prevail."

"We are very grateful for the excellent treatment and care provided by the doctors and their medical teams ... We are equally grateful for the love and support of our family and friends," the family said.

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.

Kirk at times exaggerated his record in the Navy Reserves. He incorrectly said he had been named intelligence officer of the year and took part in the invasion of Iraq. He said he came under fire while on a military flight but wouldn't provide details and stopped making the claim when questioned about it.

"I'm not perfect. I made a mistake and then apologized," Kirk said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press. "Going forward, the question we have and the choice we make as to who our senator is has a lot less to do with what happened in the 20th century and a lot more with what's happening in the 21st century."

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday he was shocked to learn of Kirk's stroke because kirk appeared to be a picture of health. A Kirk aide said the senator is a regular swimmer and has to pass medical checks every six months in the reserves.

Sen. Joe Manchin, with whom Kirk planned to sit during Tuesday night's State of the Union Address, issued a statement calling Kirk a "dear friend and truly a great American."

He said he's confident Kirk "will make a speedy recovery and I will do everything I can to support him and his family until he is able to join us back here in Washington."

___

Associated Press writers Lindsey Tanner in Chicago, Christopher Wills in Springfield and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.