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Kirk undergoes more surgery to relieve brain swelling

Dr. Richard Fessler, neurosurgeon, discussed Sen. Mark Kirk's stroke and surgery during a press conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Monday. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk gave his doctors a thumbs-up sign on request Thursday, they said.

That followed a second round of surgery Wednesday in which doctors removed two small pieces of brain tissue destroyed by the stroke Kirk suffered over the weekend.

Kirk’s chances of a full mental recovery look strong, though the chance of long-term or permanent facial paralysis or problems moving his left arm and leg remain.

Kirk’s colleague and ally on bi-partisan legislative initiatives, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, is expected to try to visit Kirk Friday or Saturday. Manchin made sure a seat was left empty for Kirk at Tuesday night’s State of the Union Speech.

Colleagues of the stricken 53-year-old Naval Reserve intelligence officer say he does keep in shape. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said he saw Kirk jogging in Krakow during their trip to Poland last week, and he said Kirk looked more awake and alert on the appointment-packed trip than Quigley did.

Kirk’s neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Fessler at Northwestern Memorial Hospital said Wednesday’s surgical procedure is commonly performed in similar cases and meant to create more space around the brain to accommodate “the expected peak of swelling.

“The procedure – which removed two small pieces of tissue previously destroyed and rendered non-functional by the senator’s stroke – was completed successfully and without complication. The procedure is unlikely to have any impact on his physical or neurological prognosis.”

Fessler said that, on Thursday morning, the Republican from Highland Park “was alert, responsive and gave us the thumbs-up on request,”

He added, “Sen. Kirk continues to progress as expected and remains in serious but stable condition this morning, with no change in his neurological or physical prognosis.”

Doctors previously removed a 4-by-8-inch piece of Kirk’s skull, also to allow for swelling.

Kirk checked himself in to Northwestrn 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’d suffered an ischemic stroke, caused by an artery to the brain being blocked.