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Mark Kirk Climbs Capitol Steps, Returns To Senate

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Sen. Mark Kirk had to learn how to walk and talk again after his stroke last year. His congressional colleagues and his team from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern Hospital were on hand to witness his emotional return. Mary Ann Ahern reports. (Published Friday, Jan 4, 2013)

    The struggles Mark Kirk endured during his yearlong recovery from a major stroke were worth it Thursday as the Illinois Republican marked his long-awaited return to work by climbing the 45 steps to the Senate's front door.

    "I've been dreaming about this day for months," Kirk said Tuesday in a sit-down interview with NBC Chicago in Washington.

    Mark Kirk Climbs Capitol Steps

    [CHI] Mark Kirk Climbs Capitol Steps
    A year after suffering a stroke, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk climbed the steps of the Capitol. "I've been dreaming about this day for months," Mark Kirk said Tuesday in a sit-down interview with NBC Chicago in Washington. (Published Thursday, Jan 3, 2013)

    Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (R-W.V.), Kirk stopped several times and waved as colleagues cheered him on. Fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin walked the steps with him, and Rep. Bobby Rush and others greeted him on the top step with hugs and handshakes.

    "Just finished Capitol step climb, It is the honor of my life to represent the people of #IL. Thx for all the support!" Kirk tweeted.

    Kirk Doubted He Would Fully Recover from Stroke

    [CHI] Kirk Doubted He Would Fully Recover from Stroke
    Sen. Mark Kirk nearly died from his January 2012 stroke and said at one point he recalled angels speaking to him. Mary Ann Ahern reports. (Published Wednesday, Jan 2, 2013)

    From the Senate Chaplain to Senate colleagues, Kirk's return was noted as inspiring.

    "He's my wingman, and that's a beautiful relationship. I've said this: there's certain people you bond with immediately, and Mark was a person that I bonded with immediately, from Day One," said Manchin.

    Mark Kirk Climbs the Willis Tower Stairs

    [CHI] Kirk Does First Post Stroke Interview
    U.S. Senator Mark Kirk talked with NBC 5 Mary Ann Ahern about achieving his goal to climb 37 flights of stairs in Willis Tower and his plans for getting back to Washington D.C. Ahern reports for NBC News at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012. (Published Monday, Nov 5, 2012)

    Others from the Illinois congressional delegation were also on hand to cheer him on.

    "Any American who has gone through an illness or an injury, they just want to get back to work and to their lives, and that's what he's doing today. I think he's a tremendous symbol," said newly sworn-in Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

    Kirk's Rehabilitation Focusing on One Task: Walking

    [CHI] Kirk's Rehabilitation Focusing on One Task: Walking
    Sen. Mark Kirk's recovery from a January stroke has given hope to hundreds of thousands of patients. Kirk was the first to take part in an experimental program that appears to have made a big impact on his comeback. Nesita Kwan reports. (Published Monday, Aug 13, 2012)

    "I think he can do this. From what I understand, from a medical point of view, his cognitive skills are all there. I know the same Senator Kirk is going to be there on opening day," added Rep. Mike Quigley.

    The climb was a feat he didn't think was possible a year ago.

    "There was a time with my left leg when my doctors said, 'It will bear weight,' and I thought, 'You know, I'm the owner of this leg. Yeah, right. It'll never bear weight,'" Kirk said. "They were right and I was wrong."

    Kirk's massive stroke limited movement on the left side of his body and affected his speech. He spent months learning to walk and climb stairs, along with speech therapy. He credits his staff at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for pushing him when he thought he couldn't do it.

    Kirk needed three brain surgeries to help him heal. At one point he was so close to death he recalled angels speaking to him.

    "I felt like there were three angels in the room. And, interestingly, they had New York accents, probably because the last movie I'd seen was on Channel 11, was the original 'Ocean's 11,'" he said.

    Kirk now speaks more slowly and deliberately. He also uses a cane and may need a wheelchair. When he returns to work, he is expected to have a scaled back schedule and won't keep the same busy travel schedule he once did.

    He said the stroke gave him a renewed sense of purpose, deepened his faith and the experience made him vow "to never, ever give up."