Former Alaska state Sen. Albert Kookesh, 64, of Angoon suffered a heart attack at the Juneau Airport Monday morning and was transported to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where he underwent surgery to remove a blockage, friends and family said Monday.
Kookesh, who is also chairman of the Sealaska Corp. and co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, was resting comfortably after the surgury, they said. Providence listed Kookesh in critical condition.
Kookesh had been waiting to board a plane to Washington, D.C., when he felt chest pains, left the line and dialed 911, said Nancy Barnes, his former legislative aide. He was transported to Anchorage for the surgery.
Kookesh served in the Alaska Legislature for 16 years before losing his seat in November after redistricting. Democrat Kookesh lost to fellow incumbent and Sitka Republican Bert Stedman in the November general election. The two faced off after parts of their separate Southeast districts were combined.
Sealaska Corporate Secretary Nicole Hallingstad said Kookesh was conscious and speaking when transported to Anchorage. "We cannot speculate on the cause or his condition until further information is made available," she said.
Alaska legislators wished Kookesh, who served 16 years in the legislature, a speedy recovery.
"Albert is a dear friend of mine," said Senator Egan, D-Juneau. "I feel terrible. We were kids together. We grew up together right here in Juneau. I wish him the best and my heart goes out to his wife Sally and their children."
"The news is devastating," added Senator Donny Olson, D-Golovin. "Albert and I are very close friends and we worked together on issues related to the Bush and the Alaska Native community. We're all praying for a speedy recovery."
"We are all very fond of Albert and he brought a vision of Alaska that no one else has," said Senator Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. "His vision for Native Alaska has helped improve lives in rural Alaska for decades to come. I hope he recovers soon."
Family members were on the way to Anchorage to be with him. Kookesh is married to Sally Woods-Kookesh, originally from Tanana, and he lives in Angoon on Southeast Alaska's Admiralty Island. He and Sally have five children: Elaine, Jaeleen, Reanna, Albert, and Walter.
Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com