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McCain’s Surgery Could Be More Serious Than Thought

| by Sarah Zimmerman
Arizona Senator John McCainArizona Senator John McCain

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona's surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye may be more serious than previously thought, with experts suggesting that it may be nearly two weeks before he can return to Washington. 

During a routine physical, doctors found a 5-centimeter blood clot above the 80-year-old senator's left eye. On July 14, McCain underwent a "minimally invasive craniotomy with an eyebrow incision" at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix to remove the clot, according to USA Today. 

In a statement following the procedure, a spokesman from McCain's office said that the senator will be recovering for the next week.

"Senator McCain received excellent treatment at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, and appreciates the tremendous professionalism and care by its doctors and staff," the statement read. "He is in good spirits and recovering comfortably at home with his family. On the advice of his doctors, Senator McCain will be recovering in Arizona next week.”

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However, medical experts tell The New York Times that McCain's surgery was more serious than previously reported and that the recovery time may be longer. 

To remove the clot, McCain had to undergo a craniotomy, which is an opening of the skull. According to neurosurgeons not involved with the case, an eyebrow incision indicates that the clot would be in or near the frontal lobes of the brain. If that is the case, McCain would need "a few weeks" to fully recover.

"Usually, a blood clot in this area would be a very concerning issue," said Dr. Nrupen Baxi, assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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“Usually, a blood clot like this is discovered when patients have symptoms, whether it’s a seizure or headaches or weakness or speech difficulties," he continued. "Generally, it’s not found on a routine physical because doctors would not know to look for it."

Given the senator's history of melanoma -- an aggressive type of skin cancer known to spread to the brain -- it's possible that doctors would have scanned McCain's brain even in the absence of any symptoms.

McCain's surgeons are not conducting interviews and McCain's director of communications, Julie Tarallo, has said that more information will be released to the public when available.

The Senate Majority Leader, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has announced that the vote to replace the Affordable Care Act will not begin until McCain's return. According to CNN, McCain's vote is instrumental for the Republican's new health care bill to pass. To advance the bill, 50 of 52 GOP senators must vote in its favor.

McCain has already expressed some reservations about the new legislation and has promised to file amendments to address concerns from his home state.

"The revised Senate health care bill released today does not include the measures I have been advocating for on behalf of the people of Arizona," he said July 13.

Philip E. Stieg, chairman of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine, told the Times that if McCain is already recovering at home, he should have an easy recovery. 

"I think the one possibility that’s of concern is that melanomas are known to go to the brain and they can bleed," he said. "They’ll have to wait for the pathology to come back. The good news is that five centimeters is a sizable blood clot, but in the frontal lobe, it should be well tolerated and hopefully he won’t have any neurologic deficits."

Sources: USA Today, The New York Times, CNN / Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr (2), Eduardo Garcia Cruz/Flickr

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