Kirk pen pals with young Illinois stroke victim

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — After his stroke last year, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk became pen pals with an 11-year-old boy who told the Illinois Republican about his own recovery from a stroke and encouraged the senator not to give up on himself.

Kirk’s office released a series of letters Wednesday between Kirk and Jackson Cunningham, who lives in the central Illinois town of Oakwood. Jackson had a stroke in February 2011, about a year before Kirk had an ischemic stroke.

“Here’s some advice,” Jackson says in his first letter to Kirk in February 2012, three weeks after Kirk’s stroke. “Do not give up on yourself.”

“All the hard work is worth it,” Jackson tells the senator. He suggests Kirk attend therapy on the “grown-up floor” of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where “they make you work hard and you get lots of things back fast.”

Like Kirk, Jackson was partially paralyzed on the right side of his body and lost vision as a result of the stroke. Both underwent therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Jackson returned home in April 2011 and to school the following fall.

He told Kirk, “all the therapy paid off.”

Kirk returned to Congress in January after a yearlong recovery at home in Illinois.

The pair exchanged dozens of letters in which Jackson briefed Kirk on his progress in therapy, at home and at school.

Kirk passed on some advice his mother, Judy, gave him: “Socks up little cabbage.” Jackson later began signing his letters “little cabbage.”

Jackson tells Kirk that he has started to type the letters himself, that he’s begun eating meals with his left hand, and of learning karate at summer camp. He asks Kirk if his ferocious cat, Cleopatra, has traveled to Washington with him.

Kirk spokesman Lance Trover said Jackson visited the senator at his Highland Park Home and later at the Capitol. Jackson also shared a stage with Kirk at a RIC groundbreaking event in July.

Trover said the release of the letters as well as behind-the-scenes video from an upcoming People magazine piece on the friendship is part of Kirk’s mission to “raise awareness of stroke, to take stroke victims out of the shadows and help get them back into the workforce.”

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