Mark Kirk climbs Capitol steps in Senate return after stroke

January 3, 2013 8:32:20 PM PST
Illinois Senator Mark Kirk returned to the Senate after suffering a stroke last January.

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk took the final steps on his long journey back to Congress Thursday.

He received a standing ovation from colleagues as he climbed the steps leading to the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol.

As he reached the top, he saluted and said "Reporting for duty."

"To have all his colleagues Democrats and Republicans lined up on the stairs just had to make him feel wonderful and that kind of warm bipartisan welcome had to make him feel good," his fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said.

There was symbolism and drama as Kirk made his way up the stairs.

The moment was witnessed by five dozen members of Congress who gathered on the steps of the senate to cheer Kirk.

There were 45 steps for Kirk to make with help from his best friend in the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Vice President Joe Biden

"You got all day pal," Biden told Kirk.

With his four prong cane, Kirk slowly climbed with some pauses and explosive applause.

At the top opposing political warriors Senate President Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were there to welcome back the junior Senator from Illinois.

"I really think Mark has an opportunity here," Durbin said. "He can make this a better Senate just by virtue of the fact that so many people respect what he's done."

"The senator has shown a lot of grit and perseverance and as I said before, don't you think we need more of that in congress now?," Representative Tammy Duckworth said. Among those watching all this were the doctors who treated Kirk at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and a therapist Kirk called his inspiration.

"I have seen him go up tons of stories," physical therapist Mike Klonowski said. "We have done it out there throughout our therapies but it is really something else to see him do this today."

In the early days after his stroke, Kirk, couldn't balance himself on a floor mat, Klonowski said. There has been much progress since then on display for the world today.

Despite a triumphant, symbolic climb, Kirk's rehab will be lifelong.

The stroke affected the right side of his brain. Kirk spent a year relearning how to walk in intensive physical therapy.

He will still likely have significant limitations, but things like his speech, sometimes halting, should continue to improve.

"Memory and attention and concentration, we fully expect that those functions will improve. In fact, those are the functions that tend to improve the longest and the latest beyond a stroke," his doctor at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Elliot Roth said.

There is no good way to predict the progress that Kirk will make or to what extent he will be able to handle the stress and strain of a rigorous job.

His doctors said that they believe he will be able to handle it and one key thing he has working in his favor, they said, is that he has a will to make it work.