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Sen. Mark Kirk on how stroke changed him: ‘I’m an optimist now, grateful for every blessing’

Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill. going through walking exercise RehabilitatiInstitute Chicago following stroke he suffered January 2012. (AP Photo/Courtesy Sen. Mark

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. going through a walking exercise at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago following a stroke he suffered in January 2012. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Sen. Mark Kirk's office)

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Updated: March 5, 2013 6:33AM



A year of excruciating post-stroke physical therapy separates Sen. Mark Kirk from last year’s Super Bowl, which he spent inside a hospital, and this year’s Super Bowl, which he watched Sunday from the comfort of his Washington, D.C., home.

Kirk, 53, detailed the painful and frustrating challenge of exercising his lifeless left leg while strapped into a harness at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in an op-ed published Sunday by the Washington Post: “Hour after hour on that infernal machine, trying to do a simple thing that my brain would no longer communicate to my limb, was torture. Once, during an exhausting session, I threw up on Mike. He just looked up and said, ‘I can’t believe you did that to me.’ ”

Kirk was referring to his physical therapy taskmaster, Mike Klonowski, whom he described as a “tyrant” and an “inspiration.”

“I wanted to give up almost every day. I was indescribably fatigued,” he wrote.

Not long after his stroke in January 2012, Kirk said he “dreamed that three angels came into my room and wanted me to go with them, but I said no, because I knew where I was, on the ninth floor of the RIC, and why I was there: to begin a long, difficult recovery.”

For inspiration, Kirk imagined himself once again walking up the steps of the Capitol — ­a goal he accomplished four weeks ago.

The experience left him with a new outlook on life.

“I’m different from what I was. My left leg and left arm might never work like they once did, but my mind is sharp. I’m capable of doing the work entrusted to me by the people of Illinois, but I am forever changed.

“I’m an optimist now, grateful for every blessing. Bad things happen, but life is still waiting for you to make the most of it. I want my life to count for something more than the honors I once craved. I believe it will.”



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