O’Bannon in coma after stroke
Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon of Corydon is in a medically-induced coma in a Chicago hospital following three hours of emergency brain surgery Monday for injuries caused by a massive cerebral hemorrhage and a subsequent fall in his downtown Chicago hotel room.
A neurosurgeon said how O’Bannon responds these next few hours will be crucial as to his recovery. Dr. Wesley Yapor said Monday afternoon that O’Bannon was on a ventilator and his condition is critical. He said the surgery went well but no one could predict if O’Bannon will survive or how he might recover.
The CBS-TV affiliate in Chicago said surgeons successfully removed blood from both sides of O’Bannon’s brain. A hospital spokesperson said yesterday that he appears to have suffered some brain damage.
The governor had surgery Monday starting about 11 a.m. (Chicago time) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after being found unconscious and unresponsive a few blocks away in his eighth-floor Palmer House Hilton hotel room by one of his bodyguards, Indiana State Police Trooper Alex Willis. Willis did a ‘well-being’ check after O’Bannon failed to respond to calls to his room.
Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan, now the acting governor of Indiana, was at the same hotel and was one of the first people to find the stricken governor, who was lying on his back in his pajamas in his hotel room closet.
Chicago Fire Dept. paramedics responded to a call from the hotel at 9:10 a.m. Kernan, 57, rode with O’Bannon in the ambulance to the hospital, arriving about 9:30 a.m. He said O’Bannon was unresponsive but breathing. Kernan remained with the O’Bannon family before returning to the Statehouse in Indianapolis to confer with his staff and O’Bannon’s staff and state leaders of both parties.
Kernan asked everyone to join hands and pray for O’Bannon’s recovery.
O’Bannon, 73, was in Chicago to give the opening remarks at the U.S. Midwest-Japanese trade conference. First Lady Judy O’Bannon was at their temporary residence at Fort Harrison State Park in northeast Indianapolis when she was notified. She was flown by state police helicopter to the hospital Monday morning and was soon joined by their children, Jon O’Bannon, 38, of Floyds Knobs, Polly Zoeller, 44, of New Albany and Jenny O’Bannon, 42, of Indianapolis.
O’Bannon, a Democrat, is in the third year of his second four-year term as governor and, by law, was ineligible to seek a third term. Kernan, the former mayor of South Bend and once considered a lock for the Democratic nomination for governor, announced shockingly in December that he did not intend to run. He has served with O’Bannon the past six years.
NBC reported yesterday that Dr. Yapor said, ‘We certainly want to do everything possible to improve the likelihood that he will have as much function as possible. At the present time, obviously, he cannot be governor, or at least function as governor for now, because he is in critical care and is in very serious condition.’
O’Bannon is likely to stay sedated for several days to help him heal, relieve pressure on his brain and alleviate discomfort from a breathing tube, The Indianapolis Star reported yesterday.
Judy said the family is heartened by the many encouraging words and messages coming from all over the country, including the White House. She said yesterday, ‘ We have a very sick man who has had a massive stroke. He is being cared for very well by some very fine doctors, some of them Indiana University-trained doctors, and they’re very well-equipped technically.
‘He looks and acts very much at peace. We all feel up here that whatever happens, it’s going to be OK. We have, like everybody else would, have times when you feel sentimental and weepy and sad when things change when things had been going very well and optimistically as far as being involved, but we don’t feel a sense of grief or impending doom or anything.’
She said her attendance Sunday at the dedication of a temple at the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, where the Dalai Lama and Muhammad Ali were guests of honor, ‘remind you that we really are part of a process that’s not linked to any particular time, or place, or person, or activity or experience. It’s a pretty wonderful spiritual world, and you’re part of it. I think we’re doing quite well.’
She said ‘overnight went well’ and CAT scans have shown some improvement but nothing that provides information for medical evaluation. She said, ‘We’re in a waiting period, having all those people trying to be very nice and helpful.
‘We’re very much aware that Corydon and Harrison County folks have been thinking about Frank and the family and we’re very appreciative of that. We feel very much a part of that community, and our family will continue to be a part of that community.’
People in O’Bannon’s hometown were in a sad state of shock Monday as newspaper and television reporters arrived in numbers to talk to residents, O’Bannon acquaintances and employees at O’Bannon Publishing Co., which publishes this newspaper, the Clarion News and The Monday Shopper.
O’Bannon’s church, Corydon United Methodist, opened its doors on the square yesterday morning to allow people to pray and meditate, said Jan Frederick. Judy O’Bannon said she was pleased that the Rev. Esther Wilson flew to Chicago Monday to be with the family.
State Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, who succeeded O’Bannon as state senator for District 47 and recently announced for lieutenant governor, said, ‘It’s just a shock. I just feel so sorry for Judy and the family. They have been such good friends for so long. It’s hard for all of us to take. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.’
Both the Corydon Town Council and Harrison County Council began their Monday night meetings with a time of prayer for the governor and his family. As soon as the moment of silence was over at Town Hall, the carillon chimes at the Harrison County Public Library sounded, as if planned.
Although Judy O’Bannon had confided with close friends that she was concerned about the stresses on her husband because of his demanding schedule and the continuing state revenue shortfalls that bedevil almost all the states in the Union, O’Bannon was apparently in good health. He greeted President Bush in Indianapolis last week and had a physical exam three months ago that prompted the physician to say he wished his health were that good.
Several people who saw O’Bannon at the annual Indiana Democratic Editorial Association Convention in French Lick late last month, including Corydon Town Council President Fred Cammack and State Rep. Paul Robertson, commented on how healthy, relaxed and upbeat he looked. That was remarkable, Robertson said, especially considering the ‘pounding’ he’d been taking by the press, the general public and Indiana General Assembly due to the terrible economy and state revenue shortfalls.
‘He was always out to do the best job he could for the state of Indiana,’ Young said.
The Indianapolis Star reported yesterday that Dr. Hunt Batjer, chairman of Northwestern’s neurological surgery department, said, ‘The problem with brain injuries is the recovery is really in terms of weeks and months, not hours and days. That puts us in a very difficult situation in trying to make a prediction about what the future will hold.’
Prayer service tonight
The Corydon United Methodist Church on the square will hold a public prayer service tonight at 7 for Gov. Frank O’Bannon and his family.