Ted Kennedy's Final Days

Life after diagnosis: From surgery to a national battle for health care reform.

ByABC News
August 26, 2009, 11:50 AM

Aug. 26, 2009— -- From diagnosis to death, Sen. Ted Kennedy's battle with brain cancer was the last struggle of many during his long, eventful life.

His final years were marked by an instrumental endorsement of the nation's first black president, the escalation of a legislative health care battle he had championed for decades, and the death of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. It was during the same time that Kennedy got a close-up look at the medical system he long worked to reform while spending time with doctors fighting his devastating terminal illness.

"Over the past 10 months, I've seen our health care system up close," Kennedy said March 31, 2009, as the Senate health panel he led considered the nomination of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "I've benefited from the best of medicine, but we have too many uninsured Americans. We have sickness care and not health care."

Visit ABC News' special section on Sen. Ted Kennedy.

For more on the life and legacy of Sen. Ted Kennedy, watch "World News" at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Watch video of historic Kennedy moments.

Doctors found Kennedy's malignant brain tumor during tests in mid-May 2008 after the then-76-year-old senator suffered a seizure at his Cape Cod home.

The May 20, 2008, diagnosis included the senator among the ranks of 180,000 new cases of brain cancers reported each year. For patients with the most aggressive form of the tumor, median survival is less than a year; others have kept living as long as eight.

The medical community swiftly weighed in on his leadership.

"I've come to admire the man enormously in the last several years," said ABC News' medical consultant Dr. Tim Johnson on May 21, 2008. "He is a true giant in the field of those of us who care about health care reform and we want his leadership to continue."

The senator had surgery to treat his brain tumor June 2, 2008, at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. The three-and-a-half hour procedure was the first step in a treatment plan that would also include chemotherapy and radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"With surgery his prognosis is better," said Dr. Jeffrey Cozzens, associate professor of neurosurgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Evanston, Ill., the day of Kennedy's surgery. "But remember that in individuals his age, despite the best treatment, half of patients are dead in one year."

Despite the odds, Kennedy laid out an ambitious to-do list in the statement announcing his decision to have surgery: "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," he said.

Read more from ABC News' Medical Unit:
On Kennedy's cancer and treatment options. (May 22, 2008)
On what Kennedy experienced during his surgery. (June 2, 2008)