Doctors confident of Sen. Tim Johnson’s return

Doctors confident of Sen. Tim Johnson's return
U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson's (D-SD) attending physician at National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) said last week that the senator is doing well and will be able to fully resume his duties.

"In my discussions with Sen. Johnson, I am very well aware that he is interested in continuing his work as a senator and I am confident that he will be able to resume his duties," said the attending physician at NRH, Dr. Michael Yochelson, director of Brain Injury Programs, in a statement released this week by the senator's office.

On Thursday, June 7, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) predicted that Sen. Johnson would be back to work on the Senate floor by September, according to an Associated Press report.

Reid said Johnson undergoes physical and speech therapy five days a week and has recovered 90 percent of his speech, although his right side remains weak.

"He and his family and the doctors are trying to decide whether he will come back in September or July, but he's really doing quite well," Reid said.

Johnson's office has closely guarded the details of the senator's illness and recovery.

Julianne Fisher, Johnson's spokeswoman, said no deadline has been set for the senator's return.

"We are letting his doctors take the lead. He's getting stronger and stronger every day, but we don't have a definitive date," she said.

"During my last visit with him last week, he demonstrated physical improvement in his ability to walk across the room himself," Dr. Yochelson said. "I could also see continued improvement in his speech as it has become more fluid. With his improving language skills, the senator is able to express himself more clearly, which allows us to recognize the fact that he is doing well cognitively.

"He is reading the paper daily and talking with friends, family and colleagues," the doctor said. "His memory and processing skills are strong."

Johnson, 60, was rushed to the hospital Dec. 13, 2006 after becoming disoriented during a phone call with reporters.

Hours later, he underwent emergency surgery and was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst.

Since then, he has improved, moving from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility and then to his Fairfax, VA, home outside of Washington.

Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle has predicted that Johnson will run next year and win.

According to an AP report,

Daschle told a South Dakota Public Radio audience Johnson will be the candidate and will win re-election after a caller asked Daschle if he was thinking about re-entering politics.

"I haven't got any immediate plans," Daschle told Paul Guggenheimer, host of Dakota Midday. "You know, you never say 'never.' I've always enjoyed politics, I've always enjoyed public service and public policy and I'm looking at those options, but certainly nothing now. Tim Johnson is our candidate for the Senate and will get re-elected next year."

Johnson had a follow up visit last week with the neurosurgeon who performed the Dec. 13, 2006 surgery, Vivek Deshmukh, MD. Dr. Deshmukh said he was pleased with Sen. Johnson's progress and that the senator's most recent MRI indicates continued healing.

Johnson remains in therapy five days a week several hours every day. Johnson is working from home and says he's focused on getting back.

It is still unclear whether Johnson will seek his third term next year. He won re-election in 2002 by just 524 votes and was considered a likely target for the GOP before he fell ill.

Fisher said that it's not uncommon for incumbents to wait to announce plans for re-election.

"He was excited to run for office before all this happened," she said. "And he's been very appreciative that his colleagues, including Sen. Daschle, have been gracious in helping him raise money so that he can still focus on his therapy during all this, and first he'll come back to the office and then make that decision."

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, has said he will not seek the Senate seat in 2008.

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