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Senator Kirk suffers stroke, undergoes surgery

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois speaks to supporters after beating Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, at an electi
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois speaks to supporters after beating Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, at an electi

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Senator Mark Kirk underwent surgery to relieve pressure from brain swelling on Monday after suffering a stoke, and his surgeon expressed hope that the cognitive functioning of the 52-year-old Illinois Republican would remain intact.

Surgeons at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital removed a portion of Kirk's skull to relieve pressure from post-stroke brain swelling, and his surgeon Dr. Richard Fessler said the senator had "tolerated that surgery very well." The neurosurgeon

told reporters that some facial paralysis is possible.

Kirk was a five-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives before winning election in 2010 to take President Barack Obama's former Senate seat that he vacated when elected president.

The ischemic stroke in which blood flow was impeded by a blockage - in this case through the carotid artery - impacted the right side of Kirk's brain, according to Fessler, who performed the surgery.

"It will affect his ability to move his left arm, possibly his left leg, and possibly will involve some facial paralysis," Fessler told a news conference at the hospital.

Had it happened on the left side of his brain, Fessler said, "it would have affected his ability to speak, understand, and think. So we're very hopeful that when we get through his recovery, all of those functions will be intact."

"We're happy with his current status," Fessler told reporters. The doctor said the senator was under sedation in a neurological intensive care unit and that he can recognize people when not sedated.

Kirk checked into a hospital in the northern Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois, on Saturday, suffering from headache and dizziness, and was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the senator's office said.

"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," Kirk's office said in a statement.

Kirk aide Richard Goldberg said, "We are confident that the fighter in him will prevail."

Kirk, a U.S. Navy Reserve pilot who has flown missions over Iraq, is viewed as a moderate Republican. He has pressed the Obama administration on enforcing strict sanctions on Iran aimed at thwarting that country's nuclear ambitions.

Kirk recently endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the race to pick a Republican presidential nominee to challenge Obama in the November 6 election.

"I am extremely distressed by the news that my friend Mark Kirk is hospitalized for emergency medical treatment. I wish him a speedy recovery and a swift return to the U.S. Senate chamber," Romney said in a statement.

Kirk, a native of Champaign, Illinois, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000 and narrowly beat Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat, for the Senate seat.

(Reporting By Eric Johnson and Andrew Stern in Chicago; Editing

by Will Dunham)

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