Updated 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009
The sight of Senator Ted Kennedy ambling down the walkway on Inauguration morning was a heartening image. The paterfamilias of the Kennedy political dynasty had billed the campaign of Barack Obama as his own crusade, perhaps his last given his battle with brain cancer. But Kennedy's image of apparent health was shattered during a celebratory lunch that took place in the Capitol's Statuary Hall in honor of the new President.
Kennedy, 76, was put in a wheelchair after suffering what appears to have been a seizure at the end of the meal. He was escorted to an ambulance by three Senators, Orrin Hatch, John Kerry and Chris Dodd. Kennedy's wife Victoria and his son Patrick accompanied him to a hospital. It was a seizure last spring that led to Kennedy's diagnosis of cancer and subsequent surgery to treat a malignant brain tumor. "I personally wished he hadn't come today," said Senator Hatch. "But he's a person who really does love history ... He wouldn't miss this for the world." (See pictures of Obama's Inauguration.)
The new President had been chatting at another table when the Kennedy incident occured. "Looks like somebody's down," Obama reportedly said. After Kennedy was taken to a hospital, Obama returned from the door through which he had left. "He came back and seemed very, very concerned," said Senator Patrick Leahy.
A few minutes later, while addressing the gathering, Obama referred to Kennedy and said, "Right now a part of me is with him ... Our prayers are with his family." Another senior Senator, Robert Byrd of Virginia, who is in his nineties and is also in poor health, was wheeled out of the ornate hall, apparently upset by what had happened to Kennedy. A security detail escorted Byrd back to his Capitol Hill office. (Byrd, who was once a fierce rival of Kennedy, has since become a great friend; he also became emotional during a tribute to Kennedy last May after the news of the Massachussets Senator became public.) (Read "10 Questions for Ted Kennedy.")
The Senators who witnessed the event were optimistic about Kennedy's condition. "It was a difficult thing, but it looked to me as if he would be O.K.," said Hatch. "He was starting to do O.K. by the time he was being wheeled out." Later, Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, said Kennedy was doing better and "responding well to treatment." Senator Dodd, who noted that Kennedy had been having seizures in the recent past, reported that Kennedy was talking as he was put in the ambulance, saying, "O.K., see you later." (See pictures of celebrities at the Inauguration.)
Former Vice President Walter Mondale said, "We were talking for 20 minutes, telling old war stories. He was keeping us all laughing." And then, said Mondale, "he seemed to go into a seizure of something." After the seizure, said Senator Leahy, "a lot of us were making the sign of the cross. You can tell the Irish." Said a hopeful Dodd: "The good news is he's going to be fine." Recalling Kennedy's tone of voice before he was driven to the hospital, Dodd said, "When he bellows, he is usually in pretty good shape."
UPDATE: Kennedy's office released a statement from his doctor in the early evening. It quoted Dr. Edward Aulisi, chairman of neurosurgery at Washington Hospital Center as saying that "after testing, we believe the incident was brought on by simple fatigue." In the statement, Aulisi added: "[Kennedy] will remain ... overnight for observation, and will be released in the morning."