Posted: Sept. 24, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle had a small stroke, technically two small strokes, but his doctors anticipate he will be able to resume his work as a congressman and return to campaigning after an unspecified stretch of time for rest and recovery.

A weekend of sparse information and speculation came to an end Sunday evening with a press conference at Christiana Hospital in Stanton with Michael E. Stillabower, a cardiologist, and Neil C. Porter, a neurologist, who have been treating Castle there.

"The congressman did have a stroke," Porter said. "He's really doing amazingly well. He's pretty much back to his normal self. Obviously he's tired and sleepy. My hope is he'll be back to normal over a small period of time."

The doctors said Castle was speaking clearly, his heart was beating regularly, and although they were keeping him in bed, they anticipated he would be walking. They said he would spend a few days in the hospital but could not be more specific. His main treatment is an aspirin tablet a day.

It sounded positive for Castle, a Wilmington Republican who is one of the leading figures of Delaware politics, an enthusiastic campaigner who towers over voters with a six-foot-four frame but has a stoop to his shoulders and a smile that almost seem to apologize for it.

It was also a reminder that Castle is 67, although as his doctors pointed out, he is a vigorous man never regarded as old. He has held statewide office for 25 years with one term as lieutenant governor, two terms as governor and a record-setting seven terms as the state's only member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

A national figure as a leader of a dwindling band of Republican moderates, Castle recently has raised his profile as the sponsor of a stem-cell research bill that became President George W. Bush's only veto.

Castle was stricken about six weeks before the election amid his campaign for an eighth term, running against Democrat Dennis Spivack and two minor-party candidates.

According to the doctors, Castle was feeling fatigued, drowsy and nauseous when he woke up Saturday morning while at his beach house in Dewey Beach with his wife Jane, and after 15 or 20 minutes, they decided to call 911 for emergency transport to Beebe Medical Center in Lewes.

Although a CAT scan of his head did not confirm that Castle had a stroke, he was experiencing an irregular heartbeat and pauses in his breathing, so he was helicoptered to Christiana, where an MRI did indicate a small stroke.

Technically it was two small strokes caused by a blood clot, Porter said, in two small areas right next to each other in the thalamus, the part of the brain that acts as a relay station and controls sensation, or the ability to feel objects, pressure and pain. He said Castle had no major abnormalities as a result of the stroke.

"The expectation is to give him time to rest and recover and regain his strength. He's had excellent recovery and improvement throughout the day. He's got his personality back in full force. Right now I do think he'll be able to campaign," Stillabower said.

In addition to the medical team and his wife, Castle had a full political contingent in attendance at the hospital, people who have been with him for decades -- Michael Ratchford, who was the secretary of state when Castle was governor, Basil R. Battaglia, a past Republican state chair, Jeffrey A. Dayton, his state director, and Carl Hostetter, his campaign treasurer.

Although it was clear that Castle had thrown a scare into them, they were encouraged by his progress.

"I saw the congressman around noon today," Ratchford said. "He was sitting up in bed. He's groggy but he was in good spirits. He was asking about the Blue Hens. I'm very optimistic we're going to have a full-speed recovery. The hardest thing will probably be getting him to rest."

Dayton said Castle remained aware of what was happening. Castle remembered when he was being sedated intravenously at Beebe, he complained to Jane, "Hey, those guys gave me something."

The medical and political attendants overlapped to give Castle his own Ronald Reagan moment, when the late president was shot and quipped, "I hope all you doctors are Republicans."

Stillabower was even better. He was a campaign contributor.