WASHINGTON - Nearly a year ago, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk suffered a major stroke that left him unable to use much of his left side. For the first time Thursday, he returned to work at the U.S. Capitol in dramatic fashion.

The Republican, first elected in 2010 to the seat once held by Barack Obama, walked up the Capitol steps to the entrance of the Senate. At noon, the senator will take his seat in the chamber to watch his new colleagues recite their oath of office.

"I imagined myself walking to the building and to the entrance that I would see," Kirk told The Daily Herald earlier this week in his first extended interview about his stroke and rehabilitation. "That thought would sustain me ... as long as possible."

Kirk's recovery has been hailed as an inspiration to stroke victims and people who have suffered brain injuries. In his first public appearance since the stroke, Kirk walked up more than 37 floors of Chicago's Willis Tower in November.

The senator's neurosurgeon, physical therapist and researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern Memorial Hospital will talk to reporters Thursday after the senator makes his climb. Kirk is not expected to make any public remarks.

Kirk, 53, served in the House for 10 years before winning a bruising battle for the Senate against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. He is a former intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy and was deployed twice to Afghanistan as part of the reserves.

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