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The power of encouragement

Letters from an 11-year-old constituent helped Illinois’ junior U.S. senator recover from a serious stroke. The pen-pal friendship that evolved demonstrates the power of encouragement.

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

The news out of Washington seldom has room for stories of heartwarming friendship these days.

We were thus intrigued by how two Illinois stroke victims – one a U.S. senator who works in Washington, the other an 11-year-old boy – came to become pen pals.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., suffered an ischemic stroke in January 2012, which partially paralyzed his body. The senator had been a healthy, active man, which made news of his stroke all the more surprising.

To recover, Kirk had a long and difficult road ahead.

Enter Jackson Cunningham of Oakwood in central Illinois.

The boy, who suffered a stroke the previous year, decided to write to Kirk. Jackson told how physical therapy had helped him greatly.

He encouraged Kirk not to give up.

Kirk didn’t give up. By working hard, he gradually learned to use the stricken muscles again. One year later, Kirk had recovered to the point that he could walk up the Capitol steps.

And Kirk wrote back to Jackson.

He and the boy exchanged many letters during his recovery. Jackson recently traveled to Washington to visit Kirk.

The traumatic, life-changing experience of a stroke bound them together.

Kirk credits the pen-pal relationship with inspiring him to persevere through intense physical therapy and get back on his feet.

The power of encouragement and friendship is strong. The story of Sen. Kirk and his 11-year-old constituent is proof.

If only such encouragement and friendship could be spread across the Capitol, maybe lasting solutions to our nation’s problems would not be so elusive.

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