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Kirk makes emotional return to Senate after stroke

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Senator Mark Kirk

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) made a triumphant return to the Senate Thursday, following a year’s recuperation from a stroke.

Kirk, 53, emerged from a Capitol doorway to cheers and applause from fellow senators lined up to watch their colleague mount the steps leading the Senate chamber. He walked a little stiffly and with a cane, but was otherwise confident in negotiating the long set of stairs leading into the Capitol building.

Kirk was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Bobby Rush, fellow Illinois lawmakers, also accompanied Kirk up the Senate steps as members of Congress yelled “Yeah Mark!” The Senate’s leaders, Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell, met Kirk at the top of the stairs.

Kirk’s return to Washington marked a new milestone for a man who participated in intensive walking studies as part of his physical therapy. He had to re-learn how to walk after suffering a severe stroke to the right side of his brain in January of 2012. In a July update on his progress, Kirk said during therapy he “walked an average of 3,677 steps per day, a total of 14.79 miles over ground and on the treadmill, and up 145 flights of stairs.”

In 2010 Kirk, then a congressman, was elected to fill President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.

In winning, Kirk bested Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state’s treasurer who had strong support from Obama. The seat had been vacated by Democrat Roland Burris after he was embroiled in scandal surrounding his appointment by then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill Obama’s seat.