WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Johnson got on the line with a pack of reporters Wednesday for the first time since he was overcome by a brain hemorrhage during a conference call one year ago.
The South Dakota Democrat said he plans to mark the anniversary of his illness Thursday by visiting the doctors who saved his life.
Johnson first showed signs of the hemorrhage while taking questions on his weekly press call, suddenly stuttering and unable to find the right words. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery for an arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins in the brain to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst.
His illness raised questions about whether the Senate power balance would shift, since Democrats had just won a one-vote majority in the November 2006 elections. But Johnson returned to the Senate nine months later after recovering in hospitals and at home.
On Wednesday, he began his call by joking about where he left off.
"As I was saying...," he opened.
Johnson's speech is still slurred — though improving — and he uses a motorized scooter to travel long distances. He is increasingly able to walk using a cane.
On the call, the first time in the last year that he has answered questions from more than a handful of reporters at once, he often paused for several seconds to gather his thoughts. A spokeswoman occasionally interjected to elaborate on his responses.
There has been speculation that he wouldn't run for re-election next year because of his health, but Johnson said he is committed to staying in the Senate.
"I'm excited about serving another term and my speech gets better and better every day and my mobility is improving," he said. He said he would participate in debates if invited.
Three Republicans have said they will seek Johnson's seat: state Rep. Joel Dykstra, retired real estate agent Bert Tollefson and Sam Kephart, a self-employed businessman.