Kennedy Recovering After Having Seizure at Obama Luncheon

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, battling a brain tumor, became ill at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama on Tuesday and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Video by AP
By Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was awake and "feeling well" yesterday evening after suffering a seizure during a post-inaugural luncheon in honor of President Obama, said a physician who treated him.

Kennedy, who has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments since having surgery for brain cancer in June, was rushed from the Capitol by ambulance after he began shaking and convulsing at the luncheon, according to lawmakers and Senate staff members who were present. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where doctors said they thought the seizure was caused by exhaustion.

"After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue. Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends and feeling well," Edward Aulisi, chairman of the hospital's neurosurgery division, said in a statement.

Hospital officials said they planned to release Kennedy this morning.

A hospital spokeswoman said Obama had called to check on him, but she didn't think Obama had spoken to him directly. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who visited Kennedy at the hospital, said the ailing lawmaker was with his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and son Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.).

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.

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