WASHINGTON — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is battling brain cancer, was stricken by a seizure at a post-inaugural lunch with President Obama and members of Congress on Tuesday, adding a somber note to a day of celebration in the Capitol.
Kennedy, 76, was taken by ambulance to the Washington Hospital Center. Dr. Edward F. Aulisi, chairman of neurosurgery at the hospital, said that he believed the incident was “brought on by simple fatigue” and that he expected the senator to be released from the hospital this morning.
“Sen. Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well,” Aulisi said in a statement released by Kennedy’s Senate office. A hospital spokeswoman said Obama spoke with Kennedy by phone after the senator was admitted.
Kennedy, who was an early and influential Obama supporter, last year had a seizure and underwent surgery for a malignant brain tumor. His appearance in the Senate has been sporadic since the June operation.
Seizures aren’t unusual in patients recovering from brain cancer surgery, according to two doctors who are not involved in the senator’s care, and they don’t necessarily mean that the tumor is growing back.
Patients already receive MRI brain screens every two to three months, and if tumor regrowth occurs, it is typically spotted in a routine follow-up scan, according to Dr. Keith L. Black, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“You worry that a new onset of seizures may be an indication that there has been tumor growth,” Black said. “But more likely than not, it’s just a chance occurrence, particularly given the excitement of the inauguration.”
Fatigue or other factors could have interfered with the effectiveness of his medication, said Dr. Behnam Badie, head of the brain tumor program at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte.
“If you eat too much or take other medication, the absorption levels can vary,” Badie said. “Or too much activity can put extra stress on the brain, and that may have caused the seizure.”
Despite his weakened condition and Tuesday’s frigid temperatures, Kennedy attended Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol.
When he arrived on the podium, he was greeted with cheers from the crowd.
After the ceremony, Kennedy joined other members of Congress for a traditional lunch in Statuary Hall of the Capitol. People in the closed lunch said that Kennedy sat with his wife, Vicki; Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.); and former Vice President Walter Mondale. He was telling “war stories,” Mondale said, when he was stricken with what seemed like convulsions.
Byrd, who at age 91 is also ailing, was so upset by what happened that he was removed from the room while emergency medical treatment was administered to his longtime friend.
Kennedy was brought from the room in a wheelchair with his legs elevated. One person in attendance said the episode lasted just a few minutes.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said after the luncheon that he was with Kennedy as the Massachusetts senator was put in an ambulance. He said Kennedy was conscious and protested being taken to the hospital.
“He said, ‘I’m OK,’ or words to that effect,” Dodd said. “It’s not a medical conclusion, but when he bellows, he’s usually in pretty good shape.”
After the luncheon resumed with speeches and toasts to the new president, Obama addressed the crowd and said his prayers were with Kennedy and his family.
“This is a joyous time, but it is also a sobering time,” Obama said.