Sen. Kennedy collapses at Obama inaugural lunch

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 20, 2009 6:23pm EST

1 of 4. An ambulance is parked outside the U.S. Capitol during the inauguration ceremony in Washington, January 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, was recovering at a Washington hospital on Tuesday after suffering a seizure at an inaugural lunch for President Barack Obama.

According to witnesses, Kennedy collapsed during the meal but recovered enough to smile and talk with his fellow lawmakers as his stretcher was wheeled to an ambulance and he was taken to Washington Hospital Center.

Testing suggested the seizure was "brought on by simple fatigue," said Dr. Edward Aulisi, the hospital's chairman of neurosurgery.

"Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well," Aulisi said in a statement.

Kennedy will be released in the morning, Aulisi said.

The collapse of one of the Senate's most respected Democrats cast a pall over the celebrations, but within an hour Obama was leading a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, and the Senate was confirming several of his Cabinet nominees.

Kennedy, 76, was found to have an incurable brain tumor last May that required surgery.

He missed much of the rest of the year in Congress, but returned to the Senate after the Democrat Obama's election in November, determined to help the new president pass sweeping legislation to expand health care.

VETERAN ENDORSED OBAMA

Kennedy, brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, endorsed Obama's presidential bid last January, giving a crucial boost to a relative Washington newcomer from one of its most seasoned hands.

A Massachusetts senator since 1962, he is known for his full-throated support of liberal policies, health-care expertise and thick shock of silver hair.

Obama, who shortly before had been sworn in as president in succession to George W. Bush, said after the attack that his prayers were with Kennedy and his family.

Obama did not know what was happening when Kennedy became ill at a table during the traditional formal lunch in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. "When he found out he rushed out," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat.

Obama quickly returned to the lunch as Kennedy was taken away for treatment. The 200 lunch attendees, including former presidents, Cabinet nominees and other government officials, later said a prayer for Kennedy.

Repeated seizures are common in cancer patients such as Kennedy, who first learned of his brain tumor after having a seizure, several brain cancer experts said, but some questioned the idea that a seizure could be caused by fatigue alone.

While frightening, seizures usually are not dangerous and do not necessarily indicate a serious problem, they said.

Kennedy's type of brain tumor, a malignant glioma, kills half its victims within a year and patients rarely survive more than three years.

Another venerable senator with medical problems, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, 91, of West Virginia, was sitting next to Kennedy when the Massachusetts lawmaker suffered his apparent seizure, a Byrd aide said.

Byrd himself did not suffer an attack but his security detail decided to remove him from the luncheon in his wheelchair, said the aide, Jesse Jacobs.

"We were having a wonderful time telling all our Byrd stories and Kennedy was telling some of the best, but then something happened and it all stopped," former Vice President Walter Mondale told Fox News.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Donna Smith, Susan Cornwell, Anthony Boadle and Maggie Fox; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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