Political News

Kennedy: 'I feel like a million bucks' after brain surgery

Posted June 2, 2008 6:51 a.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2008 12:47 a.m. EDT

— A complex surgery at Duke University Medical Center on Sen. Edward Kennedy's cancerous brain tumor was successful, his surgeon said Monday.

"I am pleased to report that Sen. Kennedy's surgery was successful and accomplished our goals," Dr. Allan Friedman said in a statement. "Sen. Kennedy ... should experience no permanent neurological effects from the surgery."

Kennedy spoke with his wife, Vicki, right after surgery, according to a spokeswoman. He told her, "I feel like a million bucks. I think I'll do that again tomorrow."

The 76-year-old senator was diagnosed last month with a malignant glioma, an especially lethal type of brain tumor, on the left side of his brain. Friedman is considered one of the nation's top neurosurgeons.

"The surgery lasted roughly 3½ hours and is just the first step in Sen. Kennedy's treatment plan," Friedman said in the statement. "After a brief recuperation, he will begin targeted radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital and chemotherapy treatment. I hope that everyone will join us in praying for Sen. Kennedy to have an uneventful and robust recovery."

The type of brain tumor with which Kennedy was diagnosed is particularly hard for neurosurgeons to dissect, WRAL's Dr. Allen Mask explained.

"Most people think of a tumor as a golf ball. It's more like the appendages of a glove, if you will," he said.

Keeping Kennedy awake during the surgery would have helped his doctors know where on the brain to operate – particularly because Kennedy's tumor was on the side of the brain that controls speech, Mask said.

"During the surgery, they'll actually talk with the patient about what's going on, move your hand and so forth," he said. "So by talking with Sen. Kennedy during the procedure, Dr. Friedman was able to identify, 'Hey, what areas do I need to stay away from?'"

Although the surgery was a success, it is not considered a cure for malignant glioma, but the best way to extend life. Median survival for patients is 12 to 15 months.

"My understanding is that this tumor is so aggressive and tends to grow so widely that the likelihood that they were able to get all of the tumor is unlikely," Mask said.

Anthony Coley, a Kennedy spokesman, said the Massachusetts Democrat expects to remain at Duke for one week to recuperate  before continuing his treatments in Boston.

"I am deeply grateful to the people of Massachusetts and to my friends, colleagues and so many others across the country and around the world who have expressed their support and good wishes as I tackle this new and unexpected health challenge," Kennedy said in the statement. "I am humbled by the outpouring and am strengthened by your prayers and kindness."

Kennedy said that over the past few days he and his wife "along with my outstanding team of doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, have consulted with experts from around the country and have decided that the best course of action for my brain tumor is targeted surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation."

Kennedy said he selected a team of neuro-oncologists from Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital and Duke University Medical Center.

Duke is one the leading brain tumor centers in the world, in part because more than 66 percent of its adult brain-tumor patients participate in clinical trials. Nationally, that rate drops to 8 percent.

Friedman is "one of the thought leaders" and a giant in the field of neuro-oncology, said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, speaking from Chicago, where more than 30,000 cancer specialists are attending an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference.

Friedman is chief of the division of neurosurgery in the surgical department at Duke and also co-director of the neuro-oncology department there. His clinical interests are brain tumors, skull-based tumors, peripheral nerve surgery, pituitary tumors and cerebrovascular disaster, according to his resume on the medical center's Web site.

He also removed a brain tumor last year from Bob Dumas, a radio host at G105 in Raleigh. To read his story, click here.

One of Friedman's former patients credited him – with a little divine help – for saving her life after a surgery to remove a brain aneurysm.

"I had faith in God and faith in my doctor that I would be OK," Margaret Stone, of Roxboro, said. "I think God guided his hands to save my life."

After his treatment, Kennedy said, "I look forward to returning to the United States Senate and to doing everything I can to help elect Barack Obama as our next president." Kennedy has endorsed Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Kennedy was hospitalized May 17 at Massachusetts General Hospital after undergoing a seizure at his home on Cape Cod. Doctors later announced that he had a malignant glioma in his left parietal lobe, a brain region that governs sensation but also plays some role in movement and language. A malignant glioma is the worst kind of brain cancer.

Malignant gliomas are diagnosed in about 9,000 Americans a year. In general, half of all patients die within a year. The brain tumor research center at Duke is conducting several clinical trials in malignant glioma.

Kennedy likely will receive the chemotherapy drug Temodar during and after radiation, said Brawley. The pivotal study showing the drug's value for brain tumors was presented three years ago at the clinical oncology conference. Kennedy also may be treated with Avastin, a newer targeted drug to deprive the tumor of its blood supply, though this is still experimental at this stage of treatment.

When operating, "The surgeon usually does as much as possible within the bounds of safety. We do not want to do neurological damage in an effort to remove as much of the tumor as possible," said Dr. Mark Gilbert, a brain tumor expert at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Typical radiation treatment is five days a week for a month, using 3-D imaging techniques that deliver the beams narrowly to the tumor and affect as little surrounding tissue as possible.

Kennedy has a history of seeking the top medical care available for his family. He pulled his daughter Kara out of Johns Hopkins and brought her to a Boston hospital when he was not satisfied with the initial course of treatment she was getting for lung cancer five years ago.

In addition to his congressional health insurance plan, which is often described as one of the most generous in the country, Kennedy's wealth gives him the means to afford the best possible health care. The senator is known to reach into his own pocket and pay supplemental salary to staffers who otherwise might be tempted to leave his office for better paying jobs.