Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Kirk Working to Improve Care for Stroke Patients




    Sen. Mark Kirk climbed Willis Tower Sunday as part of a fundraiser for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he underwent intensive physical therapy after he suffered a stroke. (Published Monday, Nov. 4, 2013)

    Stroke patients in the U.S. deserve equal access to high-quality rehabilitation that optimizes their chances of leading healthy, productive lives, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Sunday, outlining what he calls his "stroke agenda" to eliminate disparities in care.

    The Highland Park Republican, who suffered a stroke in January 2012, said he has helped introduce legislation to set a national standard of care, expand access to high-quality rehabilitation and help stroke victims return to work.

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    Kirk, 54, was at Chicago's Willis Tower to participate in a stair-climb fundraiser for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he underwent intensive physical therapy that pushed patients harder than traditional therapy to see if it led to a quicker recovery. Last year, he climbed 37 stories at Willis Tower and said Sunday he was "going to try like hell to beat my record."

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    He was one of 3,000 participants in the SkyRise event at Chicago's 103-story Willis Tower.

    He also said all stroke patients should have a chance to go back to work, but only about one-third do so.

    "I don't want them to feel like they've been thrown away," said Kirk, adding that adopting a national goal of helping stroke patients return to work "will serve our country very well."

    Kirk, who sometimes uses a wheelchair, returned to Washington — climbing the 45 steps at the Capitol — almost a year after suffering a stroke that limited movement on the left side of his body and affected his speech.

    Dr. Joanne Smith, president and CEO of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, said care varies widely across the country because of resources, expertise and ignorance about the benefits of rehabilitation, but also because of differences in what insurance companies will pay.

    Kirk said his federal insurance paid for 51 physical therapy sessions, while Medicaid patients in Illinois get four.

    "When I was at RIC, I was constantly was asking what happened to other low-income citizens of Illinois," said Kirk, who says he has dramatically increased his walking speed with ongoing therapy. "The worst and lowest care you could receive is lying on the bed and watching TV. That's no way to move forward."