WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Johnson's recovery from brain surgery is expected to take several months, the senator's office said Wednesday.
A test performed on the South Dakota senator Wednesday showed that he no longer has a tangle of arteries and veins in his brain that caused cerebral bleeding last month. Johnson underwent an angiogram at George Washington University Hospital, where he has remained in critical condition since emergency brain surgery Dec. 13.
His long-term prognosis is unclear. Dr. Vivek Deshmukh, head of Johnson's surgical team, said in a statement Wednesday that the tangle, called arteriovenous malformation, appears to be gone and the senator "continues to be responsive to both his family and physicians — following commands, squeezing his wife's hand and understanding speech."
The statement from Johnson's office said the senator had developed fluid in his lungs as a consequence of the initial hemorrhage and has been on a ventilator to assist in his breathing.
"His breathing has steadily improved and now he only requires ventilator assistance at night," said Dr. Deshmukh.
The statement said his "overall medical condition has improved steadily over the past three weeks ... the next phase of his recovery is expected to take several months and focus upon rehabilitation and physical therapy."
Johnson's doctors have said that when he arrived at the hospital, he was feeling weakness on his right side, and that condition probably will require physical therapy as part of his recovery.
Johnson has not spoken since the surgery because of the ventilator tubes, said spokeswoman Julianne Fisher. Doctors hope to remove the ventilator completely within the next week and then they will test his speech, she said.
The senator was sedated for almost two weeks but has now been removed from the sedation, Fisher said.
"He does more, he has been moving more, these are all very positive signs," Fisher said.
Johnson's wife, Barbara, said she is pleased with the results of the test and her husband will be back at work "as soon as he can be." The senator will miss the opening days of the Senate this week.
"Tim has had some challenging days since surgery, but step by step, he's been making great progress," Barbara Johnson said. "We know there is a long road in front of us, but Tim's determination will make all the difference."
Johnson was diagnosed with the arteriovenous malformation, a condition often present from birth, that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst. He was rushed to the hospital after becoming disoriented on a call with reporters and had surgery hours later.
The senator's sudden illness 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 his 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.