Sen. Tim Johnson issued his first public statement Tuesday since suffering a life-threatening brain hemorrhage three months ago, and his office released the first photos of the Democratic senator since he became ill.
"I want to thank the people of South Dakota and all of our dear friends for their support and prayers," Johnson said in a statement released by his office. "This has been an unexpected journey and there is a long road in front of me. I am determined and focused on my recovery, and I look forward to returning to the Senate on behalf of South Dakota."
Johnson's illness and ensuing absence from the Senate have highlighted his party's tenuous one-seat advantage in the chamber. He has been recovering at a private rehabilitation facility since leaving George Washington University Hospital last month. Johnson's office has said his recovery is expected to take several months, though he has been doing some work from his bed.
'Ready to address people back home'
The photos, which were taken Sunday and posted on Johnson's Web site Tuesday, show Johnson in his room and outside at the unidentified facility, where he has been undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy. Part of the therapy has been to deal with weakness on his right side.
The photos show Johnson looking much the same as he did before the surgery, though a few pounds lighter and in a wheelchair. In one photo, Johnson is wearing casual clothes and smiling as he reads The Washington Post. In others, he is visiting with family members.
Julianne Fisher, a spokeswoman for Johnson, said the statement was drafted by staff and reviewed and edited by the senator.
"He was at a point when he was ready to address people back home, and he asked for a draft of a statement, and we went through our normal process for review," she said.
Johnson was rushed to the hospital on Dec. 13 after becoming disoriented during a phone call with reporters and underwent emergency surgery hours later. He was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst.
He was sedated and on a ventilator for several weeks due to fluid that developed in his lungs as a result of the initial hemorrhage. He was upgraded from critical to fair condition on Jan. 9.
Johnson is up for re-election in 2008 and could face a tough race if he runs again in Republican-leaning South Dakota.