Freshman Republican senator Mark Kirk of Illinois suffered a stroke over the weekend, leading to an operation on Monday in which part of his skull was removed, to relieve pressure on his brain. Kirk is only 52 years old, and in excellent shape, so this comes as a terrible surprise. Fortunately, he was quick to report the early symptoms to his doctors and receive medical attention.
In a horrible coincidence, Kirk suffered his stroke just as Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) resigned from Congress to focus on recovering from the gunshot wound she sustained last year. The issue of Kirk’s recovery was explored by the Chicago Tribune:
[Dr. Richard] Fessler, who performed the surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said Kirk had a “good” probability of making a full mental recovery from tearing of a carotid artery that stopped blood flow to the right side of his brain, leading to an ischemic stroke. But Fessler said the chance of Kirk making a full physical recovery was “not great.”
Fessler said the stroke will affect Kirk’s “ability to move his left arm, possibly his left leg and possibly will involve some facial paralysis. Fortunately, the stroke was not on the left side of his brain, in which case it would affect his ability to speak, understand and think.”
The doctor said he was hopeful that after rehabilitation, Kirk would regain use of his left leg, but he said prospects for regaining the full use of his left arm were “very difficult.”
Fessler also said recovery is a matter of weeks or months. “It’s not going to be days,” he said. Kirk’s relative youth and good physical shape are positives, Fessler said, and he expects Kirk could return to “a very vibrant life.”
Kirk is the leading Republican in a heavily Democrat state. He won both the special election to finish President Obama’s Senate term, and the general election to succeed him, which were seen as big victories for the Republican Party. He’s only just begun the second year of his full Senate term. He has been a strong proponent of leveling tough sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, and has been working closely with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on deficit reduction and tax reform. In fact, he was going to sit with Manchin at the State of the Union address tonight. His staff can handle routine office business, and has said they will remain available to constituents while he recovers.
Wishes for Kirk’s speedy recovery poured in from both sides of the aisle. Mitt Romney, who Kirk endorsed in the presidential race, said he was “extremely distressed by the news that my friend Mark Kirk is hospitalized for emergency medical treatment,” and wished for “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.”
Senior Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, offered Kirk’s office assistance from his own staff, and said “we all feel, to a person, that he will make a strong recovery. He has a tough, steep hill ahead of him, but he is up to the task.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, also a Democrat, offered “heartfelt thoughts and prayers” 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, Senator 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.”
In the event that Kirk feels compelled to resign his office, Quinn would be able to appoint a temporary replacement, but a special election for a permanent replacement would be held along with the 2012 elections. Hopefully it won’t come to that, and Kirk’s recovery will be as astonishing as his illness.