Kennedy, Byrd Taken From Inaugural Luncheon Sen. Ted Kennedy became ill at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Kennedy is battling a brain tumor. Meanwhile, 91-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd was also taken from the luncheon, but his staff say he is not ill.
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Kennedy, Byrd Taken From Inaugural Luncheon

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Kennedy, Byrd Taken From Inaugural Luncheon

Kennedy, Byrd Taken From Inaugural Luncheon

Kennedy, Byrd Taken From Inaugural Luncheon

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99618378/99570585" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Sen. Ted Kennedy became ill at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Kennedy is battling a brain tumor. Meanwhile, 91-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd was also taken from the luncheon, but his staff say he is not ill.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. There was a medical emergency today after the inauguration. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy became ill at the luncheon in the Capitol. Kennedy is fighting a brain tumor. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. He is now reportedly conscious and answering questions. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: John Kerry, who's Ted Kennedy's fellow senator from Massachusetts, told reporters as he left this afternoon's luncheon that the 76-year-old senator got sick while everyone was still eating.

JOHN KERRY: We got the medical emergency team there, and they gave him immediate attention. And we just left him now, sending him off to the hospital with Vicki.

WELNA: Vicki is Kennedy's wife. Connecticut Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, who is also a close friend of Kennedy's, said nobody suspected anything was amiss with the Massachusetts senator, despite his having had surgery last year after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

CHRISTOPHER DODD: It was just about the end of lunch, I think the desserts were just being served, so towards the end of lunch. And we had talked. I talked to him several times. Jackie, my wife went over and had a nice chat with him and I know the president went over and chatted with him, so he was feeling pretty good.

WELNA: Several other sources in the room say Kennedy had a seizure that lasted at least 10 minutes and that he showed signs of that seizure as was wheeled out of the lunch by paramedics. Again, Senator Dodd.

DODD: It was tough. It took a lot out of him. Those seizures are exhausting. But the doctors were great, they did a good job. They were in there and knew what to do. Vicki was with him and - Mrs. Kennedy, and she knows what to do as well. And so they were very satisfied that things were looking fine for him.

WELNA: President Obama rose at the end of the lunch and called Kennedy a warrior for justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA LUNCHEON SPEECH, JANUARY 20, 2009)

BARACK OBAMA: I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now, a part of me is with him. And I think that's true for all of us. This is a joyous time, but it's also a sobering time.

WELNA: There were also reports that West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd had fallen ill during the lunch. But those attending said the 91-year-old senator, who uses a wheelchair, was only showing concern for Senator Kennedy's condition. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Kennedy Seizure Triggered By Fatigue, Doctors Say

Sen. Ted Kennedy arrives for the inauguration of President Obama. The Massachusetts Democrat was later taken to a hospital after collapsing at a luncheon at the U.S. Capitol. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Edward M. Kennedy was chatting with his tablemates during a post-inauguration luncheon in honor of President Barack Obama when, according to fellow senators, he suddenly stopped speaking.

That's the same thing that happened during his earlier seizures — one in May that was the first sign of a malignant brain tumor and one last summer. Kennedy's tumor was in an area of the brain that controls speech.

Experts say such seizures are common in patients who have suffered brain tumors. Surgery to remove such tumors, which Kennedy underwent last summer, also leaves patients prone to recurrent seizures.

Kennedy's office released a statement from neurosurgeon Edward Aulisi, who treated the 76-year-old Massachusetts senator at Washington Hospital Center. "After testing," Aulisi said, "we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue." He added that Kennedy "will remain at the Washington Hospital Center overnight for observation, and will be released in the morning."

Kennedy's wife, Vicki, and son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), were with him at the hospital, where he was rushed by ambulance.

Experts said one detail in particular is encouraging: Soon after arriving at the hospital, Kennedy was awake, talking with his wife and son, and "feeling well," according to doctors. More severe seizures are often followed by what doctors call a "post-ictal period" of confusion and drowsiness.

"Clearly, it's much better if the patient is alert and awake," says Dr. Keith Black, chief of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The Washington neurosurgeon's reference to "testing" was also encouraging to outside experts who were trying to interpret Kennedy's seizure. It suggests that doctors must have determined there was no evidence on brain scans that Kennedy is suffering from an obvious regrowth of the brain tumor, called a glioblastoma, that caused his first seizure last May.

Experts say doctors certainly would have done tests to determine if the level of anti-seizure medications in his blood were too low. That could lead to a decision to increase the dosage or switch to a different medication. But there's no indication, so far, that this caused Kennedy's seizure.

While it is possible that a seizure can signal the regrowth of the original tumor — a thought that surely crossed many people's minds — some experts caution against leaping to that conclusion.

Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, says that these days doctors will perform scans on patients with prior brain tumors every couple of months to check for early evidence of regrowth. So they're less likely to be surprised by a seizure as the first sign of a recurrence.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) told reporters that Obama noticed when Kennedy became ill and rushed over to his table.

"There was a call for silence throughout the room," he said.

"The president went over immediately. The lights went down, just to reduce the heat, I think."

In his remarks, Obama said his prayers were with the stricken senator and his family.

"He was there when the Voting Rights Act passed, along with John Lewis, who was a warrior for justice," the newly inaugurated president said.

"And so I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him. And I think that's true for all of us," Obama said.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, 91, also left the luncheon early, but his office and others said his health was not the reason.

Byrd "is currently in his own office ... and is doing fine, though he remains very concerned about his close friend, Ted Kennedy," said Mark Ferrell, a spokesman for the West Virginia Democrat.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.