Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk returns to Capitol Hill today after suffering a life-threatening stroke in January of 2012. What is most amazing is the story of his encounter with three angels who appeared at the foot of his bed inside a hospital intensive care unit.
"You want to come with us?" Kirk recalls them asking.
"No, I'll hold off," he said.
In an in-depth interview with the Daily Herald, Kirk describes what life has been like during his recovery and how his outlook on life has changed. It was on a Saturday in late January 2012 that Kirk realized that something was wrong. He drove himself to Lake Forest Hospital and was soon transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and underwent surgery to relieve swelling on his brain the following Monday.
His life would never be the same again.
Lying in his hospital bed, he awakened not knowing if he had been dreaming or had died. But the questions he was asked by the angels seemed to be an indication that he was entering a new world. For reasons he doesn't understand, he was allowed to stay on Earth.
Kirk says he is now more resolved than ever "to never, ever give up."
"I kept imagining going back to work," Kirk said, "and the irreducible physical amount of effort I had to put in."
Kirk was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 and remained there until 2010 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate to replace Sen. Roland Burris who had filled the seat when President Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008.
Through months of physical therapy, Kirk can now climb stairs and expects to make the 45-step climb to the U.S. Senate chambers unassisted today. He speaks clearly but more slowly and deliberately. His left side is partially paralyzed, including his left arm.
Yet aside from his physical limitations, his spiritual life is alive and well and he seeks comfort from the Book of Matthew on a daily basis.
"I would say that I definitely became much more religious," he said. "They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and this stroke put me into a very deep foxhole. Yet, that feeling of faith sustained me, so I have no feelings of anger or regret."
And in a day of deep partisan differences in Congress, Kirk will be welcomed back by his Democratic colleague from Illinois, Sen. Dick Durbin.
"I was talking to Mark the other day, and he said 'I want you with me to come up the steps,'" said Durbin. "There's going to be a big crowd, and you can bet I'm going to be in it."
Kirk will continue his service in the 113th Congress and will use a wheelchair to move around the Capitol complex most of the time.