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Senator Tim Johnson - medical update

Senator Tim Johnson and his wife, Barbara

Tim Johnson, United States Democratic Senator from South Dakota, underwent surgery for an intracerebral bleed on December 13, 2006.

He still remains in the intensive care unit in critical but stable condition at George Washington University Hospital. Johnson was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AMV), a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst. The congenital defect often is present from birth.

He was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery Wednesday night, December 13, after becoming disoriented and experiencing stroke-like symptoms earlier in the day during a conference call with reporters.

Johnson remained under sedation five days after surgery for bleeding in his brain. It was unclear whether surgeons had removed an arteriovenous malformation which had caused the bleeding, or if they had stopped the bleeding and left all or part of the malformation in place. It was also unclear whether further surgery might be required.

Johnson's staff issued a news release on December 15 that said "surgeons evacuated the blood and stabilized the bleeding. The surgery also relieved the pressure on the brain." The release quoted lead neurosurgeon Dr. Vivek Deshmukh saying that Johnson's progress two days after the surgery was encouraging, "considering his initial presentation."

Another member of the surgical team, Dr. Anthony Caputy, said that patients with Johnson's condition routinely experienced post-operative swelling of the brain.

The news release did not say specifically whether surgeons had removed the AVM, which is a common treatment option. The release stated that Johnson had passed the 72-hour window following surgery. The next benchmark would be the next week.

The senator's sudden illness has raised questions about the Democrats' one-vote majority in the upcoming Senate session. South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds, would appoint a replacement if Johnson's seat were vacated by death or resignation. A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.

There is precedent for senators to continue to hold office while incapacitated.

Barbara Johnson, wife of Tim Johnson, said that he was responding to her voice and following directions after the surgery. By December 14, he was reaching for and holding her hand.

"I thank the people of South Dakota for their love and support as Tim has met this unexpected challenge. Our family is very pleased with his progress and the excellent care he is receiving. We ask for your continued prayers as Tim continues through the recovery process."

On December 14, Admiral John Eisold, Attending Physician of the United States Capitol said, "Senator Tim Johnson has continued to have an uncomplicated post-operative course. Specifically, he has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required."

On Tuesday, December 19, Barbara Johnson said that Senator Johnson continued to move in the right direction and that South Dakotans have been a true support system.

"Tim and I were supposed to be wrapping gifts today at the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls for the Children's Home Society. Before long, he'll be back home visiting with the people who have shown him such amazing support," she said.

Johnson's son, Brendon, does not know if it will be weeks or months before his father leaves the hospital.

Julianne Fisher, Johnson's spokeswoman, said, "CT scans continue to go well."

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that his colleague is making "a very strong recovery. In fact, they think right now that there's a very good chance that he could get all or most all of his functions back," Schumer said.

Johnson is not conscious. He remains in critical but stable condition and sedated so he can get rest. His long-term prognosis is still unclear.

Barbara Johnson said, "It is the love and support we are getting from South Dakota that will pull him through. We have letters and cards covering the walls in the hospital room from people across the state."

A statement from the office of Senator Johnson on Thursday, December 28 said, "On U.S. Senator Tim Johnson's 60th birthday, he remains in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital and is surrounded by his family.

"Senator Johnson's overall general medical condition has improved and he is gradually being weaned from the sedation," said Neurosurgeon Vivek Deshmukh. "He is opening his eyes and is responsive to his wife." Johnson is not yet speaking.

"Tim continues to give us great hope," said Barbara Johnson, wife of Senator Johnson. "His tests are encouraging and he has been responding to me. While we were both looking forward to celebrating his 60th birthday with our family and friends, I know the celebration is just postponed. We continue to appreciate the birthday wishes and prayers he has received."

Johnson's Biography

A fourth-generation South Dakotan, Johnson was born in Canton to Van and Ruth Johnson, a college professor and a homemaker. His great-grandfather homesteaded near Centerville. Tim has a brother, Tom, and a sister, Julie.

Johnson attended school in Canton, Flandreau, and Vermillion, where he graduated from high school in 1965. He then attended the University of South Dakota, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa academic honors. Tim went on to earn both a master's degree in Public Administration and a law degree from the University of South Dakota.

During his undergraduate years, Johnson met Barbara Brooks of Sioux Falls, whom he married shortly after graduating. After his graduate studies, Johnson worked as a budget analyst for the Michigan State Senate Appropriations Committee while Barbara completed her master's degree in social work. It was during this time that their first child, Brooks, was born.

Johnson began a private law practice in Vermillion in 1975, the same year their second child, Brendan, was born. Three years later, he was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives, and then re-elected in 1980. Their daughter, Kelsey, was born during his second term. Barbara became active in children's issues and services.

Johnson was elected in the state Senate in 1982 and 1984. In 1979, the Vermillion Jaycees presented him with the "Outstanding Citizen Award." In 1983, he was the first recipient of the "Billie Sutton Award for Legislative Achievement" presented by the South Dakota Democratic Party.

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. During his first term, he was responsible for passing more legislation than any of the other 50 first-term members. He received awards by the National Farmers Union, Disabled American Veterans, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Johnson served as Regional Deputy Whip from 1991-94. He served as South Dakota's congressman for five terms before being elected to the Senate on November 5, 1996.

He serves on many Senate Committees: Appropriations, Budget, Banking, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In 2004, Democratic Leader Senator Harry Reid named Johnson to be the Vice Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee because of Johnson's integrity and sense of fairness.

In 2006, Johnson was named as a member of the Air Force Academy's Board of Visitors.

The couple's oldest son, Brooks, is in the U.S. Army and remains on active duty, now stateside with his wife, Naida. Their second eldest son, Brendan, currently practices law in Sioux Falls. Their daughter, Kelsey, works in public service in Washington, DC.

In 2004, Johnson battled prostate cancer. After surgery, all tests now show him clear of the disease. Barb, a two time breast cancer survivor, was crucial to his recovery.

For more information on Senator Tim Johnson visit his website at http://johnson.senate.gov.