Tim Johnson
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., has been in critical condition since suffering a brain hemorrhage last month.
updated 1/3/2007 5:36:14 PM ET 2007-01-03T22:36:14

South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson’s recovery from a brain hemorrhage and emergency surgery is expected to take several months, the senator’s office said Wednesday.

A test showed that Johnson, who turned 60 last week, no longer has the tangle of arteries and veins in his brain that caused bleeding that sent him to the hospital for emergency surgery last month. He underwent the angiogram Wednesday at George Washington University Hospital, where he has been in critical condition since Dec. 13.

His long-term prognosis is unclear. Dr. Vivek Deshmukh, head of Johnson’s surgical team, said in a statement 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 Deshmukh.

The statement said his overall medical condition has improved steadily. “The next phase of his recovery is expected to take several months and focus upon rehabilitation and physical therapy,” according to the statement.

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 tiebreaking vote.

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 will test his speech, she said.

Senator's office hails ‘positive signs’
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,” she said.

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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.

Johnson’s wife, Barbara, said she is pleased with the results of the test and that 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 phone call with reporters and had surgery hours later.

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