Breaking News: Chicago Teacher’s Union Lewis stepping aside because of illness

Chicago teacher's union president, Karen Lewis, at a press conference on April 10, 2012 responding to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to lengthen the school day.
Chicago teacher’s union president, Karen Lewis, at a press conference on April 10, 2012 responding to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to lengthen the school day.

By Julie Woon

Karen Lewis is temporarily stepping aside as head of the Chicago Teachers Union because of a serious illness that required surgery Wednesday. The announcement was made Thursday afternoon by Jesse Sharkey, the union’s vice president, who is taking over for Lewis effective immediately.

Sharkey declined to answer questions about the nature of Lewis’ illness, citing her desire for privacy.  The potential mayoral candidate had weight loss surgery in Mexico in March.

Earlier Chicago Teacher’s Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gladin denied rumors that Lewis had a stroke, but she did not mention if her problems were related to her Lewis’ previous surgery.

While gastric bypass procedures have become safer over the years, there are still significant risks, medical experts say.

“With bariatric surgery, patients can have issues with leaks from the staple line as well as possible bowel obstructions,” said Angela Willis, the bariatric program manager at the University of Chicago Center of Obesity Treatment. “Some patients develop ulcers or bleeding. And vitamin and nutritional deficiencies may occur.”

Sharkey has been vice president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union since June 2010. He is a history teacher at Senn High School and previously served as the union delegate. He said he couldn’t answer a question about when Lewis might return.

Chicago’s mayoral election will take place Feb. 24.