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Illinois senator speaking, asking for phone after stroke

CHICAGO — Sen. Mark Kirk was doing better than expected after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery, his neurosurgeon said Tuesday, noting the Illinois Republican was answering questions and even asking for his Blackberry.

Dr. Richard Fessler, who performed surgery on Kirk at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said the 52-year-old "is doing very well" but that the road to recovery will be long.

Kirk's stroke over the weekend affected his left side, particularly movement of his left arm and his face. Surgeons removed a piece of his skull Sunday to alleviate pressure from swelling and Kirk remained in intensive care. Doctors said he was expected to make a full mental recovery, but may never regain full movement, even after a long rehabilitation.

Experts and other politicians who have been through similar medical situations said Kirk's rehabilitation will be grueling and could take years.

It's unclear when Kirk will be able to return to work, but doctors said he appeared eager to do so.

"He asked for his Blackberry yesterday so he's ready to go back to work," Fessler said. He added that doctors did not give it to him.

Tests showed Kirk had a tear in the carotid artery on the right side of his neck, but Fessler said Tuesday the cause of the stroke is unknown and may never be clear. He said diet and stress did not appear to be behind Kirk's stroke.

Kirk won President Barack Obama's former Senate seat for the Republican Party in 2010.