Today’s joyous inaugural festivities were briefly (and sadly) interrupted when Senator Edward Kennedy fell victim to a seizure during a Congressional luncheon immediately following President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony.
Kennedy, who is suffering from incurable brain cancer, was seated next to Sen. Robert Byrd when he suddenly began to experience convulsions and had to be taken out on a stretcher.
Dr Edward Aulisi at the Washington Hospital Centre confirmed in a statement late this afternoon that Kennedy had suffered a seizure. “After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue,” he said.
“Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well.”
The Massachusetts Democrat was awake and answering questions when he arrived at the hospital and was able to receive a phone call from President Obama. His wife, Vicki, and son Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., were with him.
A few hours later, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., visited Kennedy, 76, whom he said would remain overnight at the hospital. “He’s laughing and joking right now, he’s got all his Irish dander up,” he said.
As Kennedy’s condition became apparent to the luncheon guests, Obama, whose bid for president received a major boost a year ago when Kennedy endorsed him, left the head table and joined several of Kennedy’s closest Senate friends, who tended to him along with a medical staff.
After Kennedy, 76, was taken from the room, Obama told the assembled crowd of more than 200 of the nation’s most powerful politicians that Kennedy has been a “warrior for justice” in his 46-year career in the Senate. Obama noted that Kennedy helped pass landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s that helped make Obama’s own ascent possible.
“I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him,” Obama added. “And I think that’s true for all of us. This is a joyous time. But it’s also a sobering time. And my prayers are with him and his family.”
The seizure cast a somber tone over the usually festive luncheon, held every four years in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall after the swearing-in ceremony.
Teresa Heinz Kerry told reporters that her husband and Vicki Kennedy held the senator down to try to keep him from injuring himself before medical personnel arrived. Sen. Kerry said that Kennedy’s deteriorating health became of such concern that Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), 91 and in declining health, became despondent and left the room.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, 84, who was sitting at the same table as Kennedy and Byrd, said he saw no warning signs before Kennedy’s seizure. “We were chatting away, he was in a happy mood, regaling us with jokes,” Inouye (D-Hawaii) said.
Medical personnel took Kennedy out in a wheelchair, into a room just off the floor of the House, where Kerry and Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) gathered around and then helped him into the ambulance. The senators told reporters afterward that Kennedy was conscious the entire time and spoke to them.
“He gave me that Irish smile, so I think he’s going to be all right,” Hatch said.
Kennedy’s health has become an emotional touchstone for Democrats in recent months.
His tumor, a malignant glioma, is a common and often lethal form of brain cancer. It was discovered after a May 17 seizure at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., on Cape Cod. The tumor is in his brain’s left parietal lobe, which is involved in speech, sensation and motor control.
After his June 2 surgery at Duke University Medical Center, Kennedy spent the summer and fall on Cape Cod while receiving treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He briefly returned to the chamber in early July to give Democrats a much-needed vote to pass Medicare pricing legislation. He received a standing ovation upon entering the chamber and, realizing the legislation was on the verge of being approved, nine Republicans switched their votes to side with Kennedy.
Kennedy made another surprise appearance in August, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Since Obama selected Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as his secretary of state, members of the Kennedy clan have lobbied to have Kennedy’s niece, Caroline Kennedy, also an ardent Obama supporter, succeed Clinton in the Senate.
Medical experts have said most patients with malignant gliomas do not survive more than a year or two after diagnosis, although the operation may have been successful enough to add several years to that prognosis.
His friends said that Kennedy remained in good spirits yesterday, even as he was in obvious pain, making jokes to them and telling them not to fuss about it.
“When he bellows, he’s usually in pretty good shape,” Dodd said.
Clearly, even with his health so diminished, the Liberal Lion of the U.S. Senate was still roaring…even from his hospital bed. We admire Senator Kennedy for his insistence upon attending the inaugural (think anything could have kept him away?), even if he may not have been strong enough to do so. Most likely, all the excitement of this historic day proved too much for Teddy’s system and his body simply rebelled.
Kennedy is expected to be released from the hosipital tomorrow morning. We wish him Godspeed and all the best.