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Colleague: Kirk ‘irritated' to be in hospital – meaning he's improving

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk meets with the Sun-Times editorial board. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

After visiting U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk on Saturday, a Democratic colleague, Joe Manchin, noted that Kirk was “getting more irritated at being in the hospital” after suffering a stroke last weekend.

Manchin’s conclusion? Kirk’s demeanor “means he’s definitely getting better,” the Democratic senator from West Virginia said.

The visit comes after Kirk survived what was probably the roughest week of his life, when he had an eight-inch-by-four-inch section of his skull removed because of brain swelling after the stroke.

His doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital give him a good chance at recovery, though he may have limited use of his left limbs and some facial paralysis.

Kirk is one of the most bipartisan, moderate Republicans in the Senate and Manchin is one of the most conservative Democrats, and the two have worked together on several initiatives. Manchin left a chair open for Kirk at last week’s State of the Union address by President Barack Obama.

“I brought all the love and best wishes of the Senate to Mark and his family, including cards with good wishes from his colleagues,” Manchin said in a written statement. “I also brought him some work to get done, some proposals to look at.”

Kirk’s mother, sisters and other family members have been with him at the hospital and they released their own statement Saturday thanking Manchin: “Joe is truly a class act. We continue to grow more encouraged and impressed by Mark’s progress each day. He is talking, making jokes and asking about work. We thank the people of Illinois for their unwavering support.”

Kirk’s doctors say his ability to think, propose legislation and otherwise perform the tasks of a senator should be intact.

Kirk credits his last near-death experience – being rescued by the Coast Guard at 16 when his boat capsized in Lake Michigan and being treated for hypothermia at Evanston Hospital – as a “life-changing” event that fueled his drive to succeed.

Friends and colleagues said Saturday they presume this second lesson in his own mortality will only strengthen his drive.

Kirk has been giving doctors a thumbs-up sign on request and has been joking around and acting more like himself.

On Friday morning, Kirk’s neurosurgeon at Northwestern, Richard Fessler, released a statement saying, “He is alert, responding more rapidly to questions and the swelling in his brain has stabilized.”

Kirk checked himself into Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital on Saturday after suffering dizziness and a headache. Doctors there discovered a carotid artery dissection in the right side of his neck, and he was transferred to Northwestern Memorial, where tests revealed he had suffered an ischemic stroke, caused by blockage in an artery to the brain.