Sen. Mark Kirk undergoes surgery at Northwestern Memorial after stroke

Marshall Cohen

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) underwent “successful” surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Monday after suffering a stroke this weekend, his office said in a statement.

As of Monday night, Kirk was under sedation and in intensive care at the primary teaching hospital of Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, located in downtown Chicago.

The 52-year-old senator first drove himself to Lake Forest Hospital on Saturday when he experienced some dizziness, but was eventually transferred to Northwestern Memorial on Sunday after his condition worsened.

Further tests on Sunday confirmed there was a tear in Kirk’s carotid artery on the right side of his neck, which led to an ischemic stroke. That type of stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disturbed due to an obstructed or torn artery.

Dr. Richard Fessler, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Memorial, said in a news conference Monday he made the decision to operate on Kirk when the junior senator began to “deteriorate neurologically” late Sunday night.

Fessler and his surgical team relieved swelling around Kirk’s brain by removing a “significant piece” of the right side of his skull, measuring four by eight inches.

Kirk suffered the stroke on the right side of his brain, which means he will probably have some degree of permanent damage to his left arm, left leg and the left side of his face.

“I think his prospects for a full physical recovery, particularly on the left side of his body, are not great,” Fessler said. “But I think his prospects for a full mental recovery are good.”

Fessler has taught Northwestern medical students since 2007 as a professor of neurological surgery at Feinberg.

Jennifer Monasteri, manager of media relations at Northwestern Memorial, told The Daily the hospital considers it “an honor” whenever any patient comes in for treatment.

“Whether it’s Senator Kirk or my neighbor down the street, we’re here to provide the best care to everybody, and we’re just glad to see people choose the hospital,” Monasteri said.

The hospital, ranked 12th nationally for neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report, is no stranger to caring for high-profile patients.

Maggie Daley, former first lady of Chicago, received treatment at Northwestern Memorial several times last year before she lost her battle with breast cancer in November.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. was treated at the hospital for gastroenteritis and severe dehydration after experiencing stomach pains during a voter registration event in 2008.

And baseball legend Sammy Sosa was treated at Northwestern Memorial in 2004 after he sprained a ligament in his lower back during a Chicago Cubs game.

Over the next few days, Fessler and his team will continue administering medical treatments in order to control the pressure inside Kirk’s brain. They will also monitor his physiological and chemical systems to make sure “they are where we want them,” he said in the news conference.

Although Kirk’s recovery will take many months and will include rehabilitation and physical therapy, his doctors predicted he could return to the U.S. Senate in the future.

“Senator Kirk’s job is cerebral, and I believe that the functions he requires to do his job are going to be fine,” Fessler said. “Senator Kirk is young and was very healthy and in good shape. All of those things are in his favor.”

Kirk was elected to the U.S. Senate during the Republican comeback of 2010, narrowly beating Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias by 2 percent. He had previously represented Illinois’ 10th Congressional district, located directly north of Evanston, since 2001.

Throughout the day, Illinois politicians from both political parties offered support and positive wishes for the freshman senator.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who represents the state alongside Kirk, said the junior senator appeared to be a picture of health and he hopes Kirk will recover and return to Capitol Hill as soon as possible.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), whose Congressional district includes Evanston, told The Daily in an email Monday that Kirk was in her thoughts.

“I send him my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery and I hope to see him back in Washington soon,” Schakowsky wrote in the email.

U.S. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), who succeeded Kirk in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, also released a statement expressing his well wishes.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Kirk and his family today, ” Dold said. “I would like to thank the medical professionals for their excellent work and their immediate actions to care for the Senator.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement Monday afternoon expressing 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.”

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