Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune story
about the queasiness of public officials revealing hospitalizations
sent an alarm off in my head. Katherine Skiba and Todd Lighty, in a
story prompted by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) weird disappearance
and the silence in its aftermath, focused also on Sen. Mark Kirk
(R-Ill.), who, they write, experiencing dizziness and numbness, checked
himself into Lake Forest Hospital last Jan. 21 under the assumed name
Skiba and Lighty quote doctors and others saying that using a fake name is done, although not often.
The reporters note that Kirk, 52, refused a request for an interview on the subject and that Eric Elk, Kirk’s Chicago chief of staff, “turned aside the question of whether Kirk had ever used [the alias Hillel Underwood] before."
Vertolli had talked to me over the course of 2010 and 2011 about Kirk and mentioned various health issues he had faced during and after their marriage, including his use of an alias when he sought hospital services.
On the late morning of Jan. 23, 2012, when Kirk’s stroke and subsequent three surgeries, including one to remove a piece of his skull in order to relieve brain swelling, was announced to the public, I called Vertolli and found her shopping in a Staples store in suburban New Jersey and unaware of her ex-husband’s medical crisis. Shocked and saddened, she talked about some of the issues in his health history.
A week later, on Jan. 30, she called me and mentioned the Underwood alias, in the context of this being a longstanding practice. “Hillel Underwood was [Mark’s] pen name for checking into hospitals,” she said. She also forwarded me an email she had sent to a top Kirk staffer a week earlier, on the day Kirk’s stroke was announced, that asked — I’m paraphrasing here — if he knew about the alias that Mark Kirk uses when he gets so sick he can’t use the prescription meds he has in his cabinet.
After an update and some video on his progress last May, we, Kirk’s constituents, have heard nothing beyond press releases about his work from his Highland Park home on various legislative issues of the day — for example his conferring, presumably by telephone, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the selection of a new U.S. attorney to replace Patrick Fitzgerald.
I was unable to reach Vertolli by phone or email to ask for more details. A call and email to Eric Elk in Kirk’s Chicago office was not answered by post time.