By Katherine Skiba and Rick Pearson Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., underwent surgery Monday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after suffering a stroke.
“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. The stroke affected his left arm and left leg and caused some facial distortion, the doctor said, adding 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.
But 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.
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 Illinois 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.
Kirk is divorced and has no children.