Sen. Tim Johnson's Second Chance at Life and Work

Fisher said, "You know, no matter what all of us on the staff was going through, the family … all I kept thinking about was this family does not need to be hearing about this on national television right now."

Rare Brain Bleed

Johnson had brain surgery that night, and what doctors found was not the effects of a stroke, but rather an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM.

"AVM is a rare tangle of veins in the brain that can sometimes cause a hemorrhage such as the one the senator suffered," said Johnson's neurologist Michael Yochelson.

"What happened was that he had a vascular malformation in his brain that he was not aware of, and so when it ruptured, it affected areas of his brain that caused the weakness on the left side. So that's the reason he was having difficulty with language, with walking," Yochelson said.

An estimated 300,000 Americans are born with AVM. Most go through life never knowing they have it, but for those who suffer a bleed, the effects can be devastating.

Johnson was fortunate that he got to the hospital so quickly, and that once there the neurosurgeon on duty just happened to be an AVM expert. Doctors removed the AVM from the senator's brain, and things looked good for a little while.

"When he first came out of surgery we were very optimistic because he was alert, he grabbed my hand," Barbara Johnson said. "We thought things were gonna just chug right along, but then his whole body, his lungs were impacted, the kidneys almost shut down because of all the chemicals you had to use to do the brain surgery."

Johnson was gravely ill. Doctors induced a coma as a means of keeping him alive.

A Wife's Medicine

It was January before the senator's condition was upgraded from critical to fair, and April by the time he was released from the hospital. Returning to his family home in suburban Washington, D.C., seems to have been a tonic.

"As I needed and wanted to get back home to thank so many people who have prayed and cared for me, the one person I want to thank most is my wife, Barbara," Johnson said today. "I cannot describe the love I have for this special woman. She has always been there for me."

Barbara Johnson told Woodruff this month: "I would tell the voters that I've learned a lot about Tim Johnson during the last months. I've learned that he is extremely determined. How he's gotten through this and maintained an even balance I will never understand, because I cannot maintain the balance that Tim maintains. And, you know, the sense of humor and just the, 'OK, I know what I have to do, and I'm going to go ahead and do it,' and he does it."

She says there are positive things that came from this difficult period.

"I love him more than ever," she said, "and we've had a lot of time together, and that's called quality time."

Visiting the Senator

Woodruff first met with the Johnsons in April, a few days before Tim left the hospital. His speech then was painfully slow, his ability to walk almost nonexistent.

Johnson engaged in a rigorous daily regime of speech and physical therapy to improve his walking and speaking. With each visit, Woodruff found the senator's condition improved.

Woodruff asked in June, "In six weeks, how have you improved?"

"Across every dimension, my right leg, my right arm, my speech, is all improved. Not, not much, but, all improved," Johnson said.

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