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Senator Kirk Undergoes Brain Surgery After Stroke: Dr. Connolly Helps us Understand What Happened

Photo by Alex Brandon, AP

Illinois’ Freshman Senator Mark Kirk is recovering from surgery after he suffered a stroke this weekend. Though he was not treated here at Columbia, Dr. E. Sander Connolly from the Cerebrovascular Center regularly sees patients in his condition and gave us some insight into the problem and its treatment.

According to news reports, Senator Kirk was diagnosed with a right carotid artery dissection which means, says Dr. Connolly, “The inner lining of the carotid artery was torn. Trauma is the most common cause but it can happen spontaneously.”

There are two carotid arteries located on either side of the neck and they are the main sources of blood feeding the brain.

The bleeding caused by a tear in the artery can cause a clot to form, this clot can then travel into the brain blocking blood flow and causing a stroke.  If this condition is caught before a stroke occurs, Connolly says, “You can sometimes treat it with just aspirin or anti-clotting agents to get it to heal. You can also stent the artery which means you put a metal mesh inside the artery to keep it open.”

Reportedly, the tear in his right carotid artery resulted in a stroke on the right side of his brain.  Due to the complex wiring of the brain, a stroke on one side of the brain causes the opposite side of the body to be effected.

Dr. E. Sander Connolly

Dr. Connolly says, “We don’t know how big his stroke is–that will have some effect on his recovery. The news reports suggest they are optimistic that he will walk again but that his left hand or arm may not be fully functional.”

According to an article in USA Today, he was treated Monday morning in Chicago where Kirk’s office says,”the Senator underwent surgery to relieve swelling around his brain stemming from the stroke. The surgery was successful.” More specifically, surgeons relieved the pressure by removing a piece of bone from his skull.

“We see a lot of these patients and the success is really related the how bad the stroke is before hand,” says Dr. Connolly. ” But, the procedure to remove the bone is almost always successful. It is possible that he could work again as a senator.”

patient journey

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