Democratic senator in critical condition, recovering from brain surgery - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Democratic senator in critical condition, recovering from brain surgery

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, making a widely watched recovery from brain surgery, looked "good, fine" on Friday, his party's Senate leader said after visiting the hospital.

Family and colleagues have been encouraged by his progress, yet doctors said it was too early to say whether further surgery would be required.

Johnson suffered a brain hemorrhage Wednesday that was caused by a rare and sometimes fatal condition. His illness came just weeks before Democrats are to take control of the Senate by a one-seat margin.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is to become majority leader when the new Senate convenes Jan. 4, has visited Johnson at the hospital each day. After stopping by for about a half hour Friday morning, Reid told reporters that Johnson looked good, but declined to say more about his condition.

Johnson was in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital but was described as recovering on Thursday. The South Dakota lawmaker, 59, was on "an uncomplicated postoperative course," the U.S. Capitol physician said after visiting him Thursday afternoon.

"He has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required," said the physician, Adm. John Eisold.

Johnson was responding to the voice of his wife, Barbara, and following directions after the surgery, the senator's office said in a statement. "He was reaching for and holding her hand," the statement read.

The family "is encouraged and optimistic," Barbara Johnson said. The senator's two sons, Brooks and Brendan, live out of town but flew in to be with their father. Johnson's daughter Kelsey lives in Washington.

Democrats are preparing to take control of the Senate with a 51-49 majority when the new Congress convenes in three weeks. Democrats seized control of both the House and Senate from Republicans in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

If Johnson were to leave office, a replacement would be named by South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds. A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.

Johnson was rushed to the George Washington University Hospital at midday Wednesday after becoming disoriented and stammering during a conference call with reporters.

At the hospital Johnson was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst. The condition often is present from birth.

Eisold, the Capitol physician, said doctors stopped bleeding in Johnson's brain and drained the blood that had accumulated there. "It is premature to determine whether further surgery will be required or to assess any long-term prognosis," Eisold said.

Dr. William Bank, who treats AVMs and other neurovascular disorders at Washington Hospital Center, said Johnson may need more surgery.

"It probably is not over," Bank said. "For a complete removal of an AVM, you need to be doing your surgery under ideal circumstances," not when the defect is actively bleeding.

On Thursday afternoon, Johnson underwent an additional procedure to prevent blood clots. The procedure is standard after surgery, said Julianne Fisher, Johnson's spokeswoman.

"We're all praying for a full recovery," Reid said Thursday. "We're confident that will be the case."

Politically, "there isn't a thing that's changed," the top Senate Democrat said, adding that he was keeping incoming Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky "totally advised" of developments.

Senate historian Donald Ritchie said senators serve out their terms unless they resign or die. He said there was precedent for senators remaining in the Senate even though illness kept them away from the chamber for long periods.

The White House offered best wishes.

"Look, he's a great guy," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "and it's one of these things where everybody's concerned and our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, his staff, his colleagues."

Arteriovenous malformation is believed to affect about 300,000 Americans, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The institute's Web site said only about 12 percent of those have any symptoms, which can include severe headaches and dizziness.

It's common to take several days to wake up after AVM surgery, said Dr. Sean Grady, neurosurgery chairman at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Someone who is awake and talking in the first day or two typically has a shorter recovery _ in the range of four weeks to eight weeks, he said. If it takes longer to wake up, it in turn takes more months to recover.
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