LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas returned to work on Monday after having emergency heart surgery in April, and said the procedure hasn't changed his plans to seek re-election in 2016.
Back at his Washington office for the first time since the April 22 surgery, the freshman Republican senator told The Associated Press on Monday that he expects to run for a second term in two years and that his surgery hasn't changed that.
"I'm planning on running, very definitely," Boozman said. "I think because of the fact I've come through this so well, not only will I have a full recovery but these things really do make you take a little better care of yourself, so ironically, I think I'll live a lot longer as a result of this happening."
Doctors diagnosed Boozman with an acute aortic dissection, or a tear in the aorta, and performed a surgery that lasted several hours. A former congressman from northwest Arkansas, Boozman defeated Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 election to win the Senate seat.
Boozman's 2016 re-election bid could set off another nationally watched, expensive race in Arkansas. Millions have already been spent in Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor's bid for a third term against Republican Congressman Tom Cotton by the two candidates and outside groups combined.
Boozman said he's felt much better as his recovery progressed, and that just two or three weeks ago he was so weak he couldn't sit up on his own.
"Each day, once you start the healing process and get moving in the right direction, it's been remarkable how each day you just get stronger and stronger," Boozman said.
Boozman said he went to the hospital in Rogers after waking up with a cramping pain in his side, and had noticed a drop in his blood pressure. There, doctors found the tear in his aorta.
"I think it's really remarkable and it shows the quality of our health care throughout our country that I could have a situation that was so very serious and yet they were able to fix in a fairly small town's local hospital," Boozman said. "That's something we really need to work hard to preserve."
Boozman, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he planned to focus on addressing the delayed treatments and other issues within the VA system that led to Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation last month. During his recovery in Arkansas, Boozman had expressed concerns about the VA crisis and had called for Shinseki to step down over the problems within the VA system.
"The VA system as a whole just needs to be really looked at from the top to the bottom," Boozman said. "Not only do we have this health crisis going on, we have the crisis in disability determinations where you have individuals waiting months and years before they can get a determination as to their status. There's no excuse for that."
Boozman said doctors haven't placed too many restrictions on his work, other than telling him to avoid lifting heavy objects.
"The doctor just basically told me do as much as you want, just use your gut feeling and if you're feeling tired then back off for a while," Boozman said.
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