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Kirk to start post-stroke research program; new photo released

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 24, 2012 - WASHINGTON – Three months after suffering a stroke, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.,  plans to take part in a “unique research trial,” expected to last several weeks, at the rehabilitation institute in Chicago where he has been recovering.

That announcement Tuesday by Kirk’s physician came on the same day that the senator’s website posted the first post-stroke photo of him. It shows a short-haired Kirk smiling as he sits up with his right arm on a table.

“He is mentally sharp, and meets with his staff nearly every day to discuss policy issues and global current events,” said Dr. Richard L. Harvey, medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Center for Stroke Rehabilitation.

In a statement, Harvey said Kirk “is working very hard in daily therapy sessions to increase his strength and mobility, and has walked more than 10 miles in total since his arrival” at the institute in February. “In addition he is climbing stairs and getting in and out of vehicles. We are quite pleased with his ongoing recovery.”

Colleagues who have visited Kirk, who suffered the stroke in Chicago on Jan. 21, say his recovery has been challenging but report that he has been aggressive in pursuing rehabilitation and fully intends to return to his Senate work as soon as possible.

Toward that end, Harvey said that Kirk would soon take part in a research trial at the Chicago institute that focuses on improving the “gait pattern” of stroke patients by means of what physicians describe as an intense regimen of level walking.

While most conventional physical therapy after strokes tends to focus on upright stepping -- on treadmills, stairs or on flat surfaces – the research project involves “walking at variable speeds, in multiple directions, with variable assistance or resistance.”

The research trial is expected to last “several weeks,” according to the statement. While Kirk has been in contact with staffers and fellow lawmakers in recent weeks, staffers decline to comment on the timing of Kirk’s eventual return to his Senate duties in Washington.