Mark Steven Kirk, 53, is the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois and a member of the Republican Party. Before that, he represented Illinois’ 10th congressional district for nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Well educated, being a graduate of Cornell University, the London School of Economics, and Georgetown University Law Center, Kirk practiced law throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1989, he joined the U.S. Navy Reserve as a Direct Commission Officer in Intelligence; in 1999, he was recalled to active duty for the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, then Operation Northern Watch in Iraq in 2000. He remains a member of the Navy Reserve, now holding the rank of Commander.
In January 2012, Kirk suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized. Although his physicians had expected long-term physical impairments, albeit not cognitive ones, on January 3, 2013, Kirk returned to work as Senator in Washington, D.C. (see photo below).
In his first in-depth interview since he suffered the massive stroke nearly a year ago, Kirk recounts a near-death experience in which he saw three Angels standing at the foot of his bed.
Kerry Lester reports for the Daily Herald, Jan. 2, 2013, that days after Kirk had suffered an ischemic stroke on Jan. 21, 2012, he awoke to find himself lying in a hospital bed in Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, hooked up to monitors and tubes. His doctors had put him in a coma and performed several surgeries, temporarily removing a 4-by-8 inch portion of skull to allow his brain to swell and heal.
But Kirk remembered “the dream” he had while in a coma:
Three Angels stood at the foot of his hospital bed and asked Kirk, “You want to come with us?”
“No,” he told them. “I’ll hold off.”
Kirk’s life and outlook would be dramatically changed, the stroke serving as a defining moment that he said deepened his faith and altered his sense of purpose.
The goal-driven senator toiled through the physical therapy sessions at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago that left him exhausted, sore and, at times, nauseated. “I kept imagining going back to work,” Kirk said, “and the irreducible physical amount of effort I had to put in.”
He now has his daily commute to the Senate floor plotted down to the last detail. “Leave the elevator, turn right, walk into the chamber, up three stairs,” Kirk said. “That area is open to the public and there are lots of reporters there and flip phones. I figured I’m going to have to get this right.”
Kirk’s stroke — caused by a blocked artery — occurred on the right side of his brain, which affects movement on his left side. Dr. Richard Fessler, who operated on Kirk, said the senator was fortunate the stroke did not occur on the left side, which deals with cognitive abilities to speak, understand and think. Today, all of the blood clots in his body are gone, including one in his left leg that could have triggered another stroke or pulmonary embolism.
In a statement in late December, Dr. Fessler said Kirk’s recovery was “remarkable and exceeds my expectations. He remains the core person that he was before the stroke. His thought process is normal, and his mental state remains sharp. As I have said from the beginning, when he returns to the Senate he will be fully capable of performing his official duties.”
Kirk attributes much of his recovery to his medical team’s experience and skill. “The only reason I’m doing so well (is) this wasn’t the first rodeo for my doctors and nurses. The story of my recovery was the story of medical professionals who didn’t complicate problems.”
Although Kirk now speaks clearly, though more softly, slowly and deliberately, gone is his previous rapid-fire speech, punctuating key points with an energetic bounce on the balls of his feet. He now considers himself a “disabled American.” His left side has suffered partial paralysis, causing him to use a four-pronged cane. He has regained little use of his left arm, and is blind in one quadrant of his left eye.
Just a day after his arrival in Washington, D.C., Kirk appeared at a holiday party at his Hart Senate office, making the long walk down the fifth floor hallway with the help of his cane. For efficiency, he will be pushed in a wheelchair around the Capitol complex.
Kirk does not pretend that life is the same. He calls the stroke “the hardest thing I’ve ever overcome and the biggest lesson in life I have ever learned by a country mile.”
“I would say that I definitely became much more religious,” Kirk said. “They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and this stroke put me into a very deep foxhole. Yet, that feeling of faith sustained me, so I have no feelings of anger or regret.”
A Bible passage from the book of Matthew in which Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount serves as a daily source of reflection, reminding Kirk to place his trust in a higher power.
I think Senator Kirk — like all the Congress critters on Capitol Hill — is darn lucky to receive the excellent health care he did and still does, which enabled him to survive and recover from his massive stroke. Congress, as always, have exempted themselves from Obamacare as from all legislation they pass, and will retain their present healthcare plan. I hope Sen. Kirk uses his second chance at life to overturn Obamacare.
One last thing, Sen. Kirk.
Coma is a state of unconsciousness and unresponsiveness, in which the patient lies with eyes closed, cannot be aroused, and has no awareness of self.
You don’t “dream” while in a coma.