Johnson photos therapeutic – for his hometown of Vermillion

Johnson photos therapeutic – for his hometown of Vermillion
It's been a good week for citizens of Vermillion.

On Sunday, they welcomed home their state champion Vermillion Tanagers girls' basketball team.

And on Wednesday, they along with the rest of the state, received their first glimpse of photos of native son Sen. Tim Johnson since he was hospitalized in December with a brain hemorrhage.

A press release that accompanies the photos includes a statement drafted by the senator's staff and edited by Johnson.

"I want to thank the people of South Dakota and all of our dear friends for their support and prayers. This has been an unexpected journey and there is a long road in front of me. I am determined and focused on my recovery, and I look forward to returning to the Senate on behalf of South Dakota," Johnson states.

Johnson's doctors note that he continues to make encouraging and steady progress in his recovery. He had emergency brain surgery at George Washington University Hospital immediately following the hemorrhage three months ago.

He has been recovering at a private rehabilitation facility since leaving the hospital last month. Johnson's office has said his recovery is expected to take several months, though he has been doing some work from his bed.

Johnson spokeswoman Julianne Fisher has faced the challenges of helping the senator's office operate smoothly since she witnessed the onset of his sudden, serious health problem in December.

She said his staff is excited to be able to share photos of their boss with the public.

"I think he looks great," she said. "He's lost a little weight, but he would joke that he probably needed to lose a little weight."

According to the Associated Press, the photos were taken Sunday and posted Tuesday on Johnson's Web site. They show Johnson in his room and outside at the unidentified rehabilitation facility, where he has been undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy. Part of the therapy is designed to deal with the weakness on his right side.

In one photo, Johnson is wearing casual clothes and smiling as he reads The Washington Post. In others, he is visiting with his wife, Barb, and their daughter, Kelsey.

Fisher was walking with Johnson Dec. 13 from the Capitol building back to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building when she first noticed symptoms of his pending health problem.

"He started to lose some of his speech and some of the feeling in his hand, and I asked, ?Are you okay?' and he kind of shrugged it off – strong South Dakota stock, I guess," Fisher said. "He said, ?Oh, I'm fine.'"

She said Johnson went in the office to talk to his scheduler and his chief of staff, because he knew that there was something wrong.

"By the time we were getting ready to walk back into his office, he had already walked back outside," Fisher said.

A doctor was called, and Johnson was rushed to a hospital. He underwent emergency surgery hours later. He was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst.

He was sedated and on a ventilator for several weeks when fluid developed in his lungs as a result of the initial hemorrhage. He was upgraded from critical to fair condition on Jan. 9.

The senator has been undergoing therapy at the rehabilitation center for nearly a month, Fisher said.

"We don't have a timeline for when he will be out," she said, "but we expect there will be both inpatient and outpatient therapy before he comes back to the office full time."

In the meantime, the senator, his family and his staff have been uplifted by a steady stream of good will coming from not just Vermillion, but all corners of South Dakota.

"People have been just absolutely wonderful. It's been heartwarming for the staff and certainly for the family," Fisher said. "Our office in Washington, DC is covered with large get well posters and banners. The support from back home has been incredible.

"That's why the first statement that he wanted to release was to the people back home for all of their support and prayers because it has meant so much to Tim and Barb," she said. "It has been a long, difficult path they have been walking."

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