Senator Tim Johnson, D-S.D. has been transferred to an in-patient rehabilitation unit at The George Washington University Hospital where he will be participating in aggressive therapy as part of his recovery from a brain hemorrhage, his office said Thursday.
Tuesday the senator's office said his condition had been upgraded from critical to fair.
The South Dakota Democrat, who was rushed to the hospital on Dec. 13 and underwent emergency surgery, underwent an MRI which showed, according to a statement from his Senate office, that his speech centers were spared of injury.
The statement quoted neurosurgeon Vivek Deshmukh as saying, "This is confirmed by the fact that he is following commands and has started to say words."
"Doctors say it is common for there to be a delay in speech returning as the blood is reabsorbed after the initial hemorrhage", the office statement said, adding "Johnson is currently being weaned off the tracheostomy tube that remains in his neck."
In the statement, Johnson's wife, Barb, said, "The fact that Tim is beginning to use words is remarkable as is his strength and determination. He even maintains his sense of humor when I share emails about his grandsons' adventures."
Johnson's office has said that his recovery is expected to take several months. He underwent surgery in December to correct a condition called arteriovenous malformation, involving tangled arteries in his brain.
The senator's doctors had said last week that Johnson was improving but still needed a ventilator at night to help him breathe. The ventilator required a tube to be placed down Johnson's throat, making it impossible for him to talk.
Johnson's long-term prognosis is unclear. He had been responsive to his family and physicians, following commands, squeezing his wife's hand and understanding speech.
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 could effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.