They also worked together on what Kirk calls the "crown jewel" of Illinois appointments: the replacement of the U.S. attorney in Chicago. Patrick Fitzgerald, who resigned from the post last year, indicted and convicted the previous two Illinois governors, a Republican and Democrat. It is, to put it mildly, a politically sensitive post.
Durbin and Kirk, with the help of a bipartisan group of advisers, submitted four names that were acceptable to both senators. The president is expected to make his choice soon.
Their relationship had been cordial before. Durbin was chairman of the campaign of Kirk's 2010 opponent. After the election, they agreed to wipe the slate clean.
The trauma of the stroke deepened their professional and personal bonds, both men said in interviews. "We now have a close relationship, which I value very much," Durbin says.
"We put our state ahead of party," Kirk says.
Displays of personal compassion in politics aren't entirely uncommon. Vice President Joe Biden has written about the kindness he was shown by some colleagues when, shortly after he was elected to the Senate, his wife and young child were killed in an automobile accident. In 2003, when the son of Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon committed suicide, one of the first people to come to his office to console him and talk about loss was Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy.
Yet with comity so rare in Washington these days, the Durbin-Kirk experience is noteworthy. There were others who rose to support the afflicted senator.
The lawmakers Kirk cites include his "best friend" in the Senate, Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican. Kirk appreciates the special support from Durbin because they're from the same state and because, as a party leader, the Democrat has clout.