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A anyone who has experienced a brain injury knows, disaster can strike at any time. Such was the case for South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson (Dem.) in December when he inexplicably began slurring his speech during a media interview and was later rushed to the hospital. While initial reports attributed his behavior to a stroke, Johnson was actually experiencing bleeding caused by an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins in the brain known as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
Nearly 300,000 Americans have the congenital condition, but only about 36,000 experience symptoms related to the AVM. In fact, many AVMs aren't discovered until they bleed. Some are found incidentally when a person gets an imaging study for something unrelated.
The most common symptoms are seizures and headaches. Also look for muscle weakness, a loss of coordination, dizziness, and difficulty using or understanding language.
The Senator's office reported in January that his recovery is expected to take several months and will include extensive physical therapy and rehabilitation. But the good news is that tests show that the AVM was completely removed, and most recently, Johnson began to speak again.
His recovery will surely be watched closely by politicians and the public alike, especially since it will determine whether the Democrats will keep their one-vote majority in the Senate.