Nightly News   |  September 23, 2013

Unlikely friendship develops after two paralyzing strokes

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk became buddies with sixth-grader Jackson Cunningham, bonding over their shared experience of having survived a stroke that initially paralyzed their left sides. NBC’s John Yang reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> our final story here tonight is about the friendship between u.s. senator mark kirk of illinois, recovering from a debilitating stroke, and a boy who knows something about what he's going through. the senator's left side was paralyzed. he can now stand and walk with the help of a cane. he's done it all with the help of an unlikely inspiration. our story tonight from john yang .

>> reporter: at first glance they may seem unlikely buddies. an 11-year-old down state illinois 6th grader and a 54-year-old senate freshman but take a closer look and you can see what draws them together. both suffered serious strokes that initially paralyzed their left sides. jackson 's was triggered by a blood clot when he was 8 years old. last year when h heard about kirk 's stroke --

>> dear senator kirk , my name is jackson cunningham.

>> reporter: he wrote him about his own recovery.

>> all the therapy paid off.

>> reporter: he tried to boost his spirits.

>> do not give up on yourself. all the hard work is worth it.

>> reporter: a small gesture that meant so much.

>> it was, by far, the best letter that i got.

>> reporter: what did it mean to you to have that encurrentliment?

>> it meant a lot to me. i felt that i had to meet jackson .

>> reporter: it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. it stretched from the rehab rehabilitation institute of chicago to the u.s. capitol . kirk found out jackson likes video games with zombies.

>> it's just fun wasting them.

>> reporter: you gave him a book about zombies.

>> yes. it's a good riff that we have.

>> reporter: so good it took over this therapy session.

>> i need fresh brains.

>> reporter: that playful competition spurs them. jackson recently started running and now that's kirk 's next re habitation goal. look at that. some day is there going to be a footrace between the two of you?

>> i hope. i'll going to crush you.

>> reporter: the senator and the kid, separated by age, but bound by the determination to rebuild their lives.

>> let me just give you a quick hug.

>> reporter: john yang , nbc news, chicago.