WASHINGTON - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was awake and "feeling well" last night after suffering a seizure during a post-inaugural luncheon in honor of President Barack Obama, said a physician who treated him.
Kennedy, who has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments since having surgery for brain cancer last June, was rushed from the Capitol by ambulance after he began shaking and convulsing at the luncheon, according to lawmakers and Senate staff members who were present. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where doctors said they thought the seizure was caused by exhaustion.
"After testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue. Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends and feeling well," Edward Aulisi, chairman of the hospital's neurosurgery division, said in a statement.
Hospital officials said they planned to release the Massachusetts Democrat this morning.
A hospital spokeswoman said Obama had called to check on him, but she didn't think Obama had spoken to him directly. Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who visited him at the hospital, said Kennedy was with his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat.
As Kennedy's condition became apparent to the luncheon guests, Obama, whose bid for president received a major boost a year ago when Kennedy endorsed him, left the head table and joined several of Kennedy's closest Senate friends, who tended to him along with medical staff.
After Kennedy, 76, was taken from the room, Obama told the assembled crowd of more than 200 of the nation's most powerful politicians that Kennedy has been a "warrior for justice" in his 46-year career in the Senate. Obama noted that Kennedy helped pass landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s that helped make Obama's own ascent possible.
"I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him," Obama added. "And I think that's true for all of us. This is a joyous time. But it's also a sobering time. And my prayers are with him and his family."
The seizure cast a somber tone over the usually festive luncheon, held every four years in the Capitol's Statuary Hall after the swearing-in ceremony.
Teresa Heinz Kerry told reporters that her husband and Vicki Kennedy held the senator down to try to keep him from injuring himself before medical personnel arrived. Senator Kerry said that Kennedy's deteriorating health became of such concern that Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, 91 and in declining health, became despondent and left the room.
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, 84, who was sitting at the same table as Kennedy and Byrd, said he saw no warning signs before Kennedy's seizure. "We were chatting away, he was in a happy mood, regaling us with jokes," Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii, said.
Medical personnel took Kennedy out in a wheelchair, into a room just off the floor of the House, where Kerry and Sens. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, gathered around and then helped him into the ambulance. The senators told reporters afterward that Kennedy was conscious the entire time and spoke to them.
"He gave me that Irish smile, so I think he's going to be all right," Hatch said.
Kennedy's health has become an emotional touchstone for Democrats in recent months.
His tumor, a malignant glioma, is a common and often lethal form of brain cancer. It was discovered after a May 17 seizure at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., on Cape Cod. The tumor is in his brain's left parietal lobe, which is involved in speech, sensation and motor control.
After his June 2 surgery at Duke University Medical Center, Kennedy spent the summer and fall on Cape Cod while receiving treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He briefly returned to the Senate in early July to give Democrats a much-needed vote to pass Medicare pricing legislation. He received a standing ovation upon entering the chamber and, realizing the legislation was on the verge of being approved, nine Republicans switched their votes to side with Kennedy.
Medical experts have said most patients with malignant gliomas do not survive more than a year or two after diagnosis, although the operation may have been successful enough to add several years to that prognosis.
His friends said that Kennedy remained in good spirits yesterday, even as he was in obvious pain, making jokes and telling them not to fuss about it.
"When he bellows, he's usually in pretty good shape," Dodd said.