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Lautenberg recovering after surgery

Lautenberg in a 2002 photo
Lautenberg in a 2002 photo

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Frank Lautenberg had surgery late Saturday for complications following a ski accident one month ago. Doctors said he came through successfully.

The 79-year-old New Jersey Democrat had been experiencing continuous headaches and admitted himself into Weil-Cornell New York Presbyterian Hospital Saturday evening, said Alex Formuzis, a spokesman for the senator.

Doctors said Lautenberg bruised his skull in the skiing accident, and pressure built up inside, causing the headaches, Formuzis said. The doctors described the procedure to relieve the pressure as "fairly routine," and the senator came through successfully, he said.

Lautenberg is expected to remain in the hospital for two more days.

"He's awake and alert and hopes to be back in Washington by the end of the week," Formuzis said.

An experienced skier, Lautenberg was on his annual vacation in Aspen, Colorado, with family and friends when the accident occurred.

"There are some veins that essentially are torn at the time of head injury," said CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon. "Over time, that blood accumulates ... and puts pressure on the brain."

This happens more frequently in older people, he added.

The surgical procedure allows the blood to be drained. The surgeon makes holes in the skull and opens up the outer layer of the brain, Gupta said.

The procedure can affect a patient's mental capacity, but only in very rare cases, Gupta said. However, the blood that had built up over a month could leave lingering effects, such as weakness on one side of the body, difficulties with speech, or long-term headaches.

There's a very good chance, though, that Lautenberg will make a full recovery and be fine, Gupta said.

A late entry into the 2002 Senate race, Lautenberg came out of retirement to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli on the Democratic ticket after Torricelli withdrew following ethics violations. He served previously in the U.S. Senate for three terms beginning in 1982.

CNN Capitol Hill producer Trish Turner contributed to this report.

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