By Eric Johnson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois could face paralysis in his left arm and possibly in his left leg after suffering a debilitating stroke over the weekend, his physician said on Monday.
But the Republican lawmaker should recover his full mental and speaking abilities, doctors said.
Surgeons at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Monday removed a portion of Kirk's skull to relieve pressure from post-stroke brain swelling. His surgeon, Dr. Richard Fessler, said at a news conference the senator had "tolerated that surgery very well."
Kirk, 52, who won President Barack Obama's former Senate seat in 2010, is under sedation in a neurological intensive care unit at the hospital, Fessler said.
He suffered an ischemic stroke, which is when blood flow is impeded by a blockage, in this case through the carotid artery, damaging the right side of Kirk's brain.
"It will affect his ability to move his left arm, possibly his left leg, and possibly will involve some facial paralysis," said Fessler, who performed the surgery.
Had it happened on the left side of his brain, Fessler said,
"it would have affected his ability to speak, understand, and think. So we're very hopeful that when we get through his recovery, all of those functions will be intact."
"We're happy with his current status," Fessler told reporters, adding that Kirk can recognize people when he is not sedated.
Kirk checked into a hospital in the northern Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois, on Saturday, suffering from headache and dizziness, and was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Kirk aide Richard Goldberg said, "We are confident that the fighter in him will prevail."
Kirk is a U.S. Naval Reserve pilot who has flown missions over Iraq. A moderate Republican on domestic policy, he has pressed the administration to enforce strict sanctions on Iran aimed at thwarting the country's nuclear ambitions.
A native of Champaign, Illinois, Kirk was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000 representing the northern suburbs of Chicago, and narrowly beat Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for the Senate seat.
Kirk recently endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination to challenge Obama for the White House in 2012.
"I am extremely distressed by the news that my friend Mark Kirk is hospitalized for emergency medical treatment. I wish him a speedy recovery and a swift return to the U.S. Senate chamber," Romney said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago; editing by Paul Thomasch)