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Senator doing `quite well’ after surgery for stroke

By Katherine Skiba and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is expected to recover cognitive functions but could have some physical impairment following a weekend stroke, the neurosurgeon who operated on the senator said Monday following three hours of surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Richard Fessler said Kirk was doing “quite well” after the surgery. A four-inch-by-eight-inch portion of his skull was removed to relieve pressure from swelling and he was under sedation as doctors managed the brain trauma, Fessler said, adding he was pleased with Kirk’s response to the surgery.

Fessler said the stroke “will affect his 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.”

Chances for a full mental recovery were “good” but chances for a full physical recovery were “not great,” Fessler said.

The doctor said he was hopeful that, after rehabilitation at an acute care facility, Kirk would regain the use of his left leg, but said prospects for regaining the full use of his left arm were “very difficult.”

He said recovery is a matter of weeks or months — “it’s not going to be days.” Kirk’s relative youth and good physical shape are positives, Fessler said, and he expects Kirk could return to “a very vibrant life.”

Kirk’s office said in a statement that on Saturday he checked himself into Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, where doctors discovered a “carotid artery dissection in the right side of his neck.” He was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Fessler said it was his understanding Kirk sought medical assistance because he was having some dizziness. Kirk was able to communicate when he was brought to Northwestern on Sunday, but his neurological condition deteriorated rapidly, Fessler said.

His condition apparently began with a blockage of his carotid artery, which led to the ischemic stroke. Asked if anything could have prevented it, Fessler said he didn’t know based on the speed of Kirk’s deterioration.

Kirk aides, including chief of staff Eric Elk, attended the hospital news conference. Aide Richard Goldberg spoke on behalf of Kirk’s family, expressing appreciation for doctors and their faith in Kirk’s ability to recover.

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.

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