U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk underwent surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to relieve pressure on his brain after suffering a stroke, and doctors say they are hopeful about his recovery.
“On Saturday, Senator Kirk checked himself into Lake Forest Hospital, where doctors discovered a carotid artery dissection in the right side of his neck,” his office said in a statement.
“He was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where further tests revealed that he had suffered an ischemic stroke,” it said. “Early this morning, the senator underwent surgery to relieve swelling around his brain stemming from the stroke. 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.”
Dr. Richard Fessler, the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery, said Kirk was beginning to “deteriorate neurologically” Sunday night and doctors decided they had to operate. A portion of his skull was removed to relieve pressure.
Kirk tolerated the surgery very well but there will be lingering effects from the stroke, the doctor said.
“It will affect his ability to move his left arm, possibly his left leg and possibly involves some facial paralysis,” Fessler said. But he was hopeful “all those functions will be intact” as Kirk recovers.
A carotid artery dissection begins as a tear in the vessel and can divert blood from the brain, according to Dr. Demetrius K. Lopes, director of cerebrolvascular neurosurgery at Rush University Medical Center.
An ischemic stroke can happen if blood flow to the brain diminishes too much and causes cell swelling and death. By contrast, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is bleeding in the brain.
Kirk, 52, spent last week on a trip through southern and central Illinois, then traveled into the snowstorm in Chicago Friday to attend a good-bye party for a departing staff member.
Dick Durbin, the senior senator and the Senate’s assistant majority leader, said in a statement that he was “stunned” by the news and that he and wife Loretta sent their best.
“I was stunned to learn that Mark suffered a stroke,” the senator said. “He is young and in good physical condition and I have no doubt he will make a speedy recovery. I have reached out to his staff and offered to do anything I can to help with his Senate duties. Loretta and I will keep Mark and his family in our prayers.”
Kirk captured President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat in a close 2010 election against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.
His victory capped a tumultuous political fight that began when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was charged with attempting to sell the Senate seat for personal gain – a charge he was convicted of last year.
During 10 years in the U.S. House before his Senate election, Kirk has forged a reputation as a centrist Republican.
He has sought to maintain that reputation amid the bitter partisan atmosphere in Washington, including working together with Democratic Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Illinois’ senior U.S. senator. Kirk recently endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination for president.