Wounded congresswoman passes ‘major milestone’
TUCSON, Ariz. – Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is opening both eyes, moving both legs and arms and is responding to friends and family.
Her doctors call it a “major milestone” in her recovery.
“We’re hoping that she crosses through many more,” said her neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole.
Her remarkable recovery five days after being shot through the head has provided a much-needed dose of jubilation after a tragic week that left the nation in mourning.
Giffords and 18 others were shot Saturday when a gunman opened fire at a meet-and-greet she was hosting outside a supermarket in her own hometown. Six people died, including a 9-year-old girl whose funeral was Thursday.
The three-term Democrat first opened her eyes on her own Wednesday evening while surrounded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and close friends from Congress.
Her left eye, which was unbandaged, started to flicker and she struggled a bit to widen it.
“Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes,” her husband urged her.
Kelly told her to give him a thumbs-up if she could hear him. She did more than that. She slowly raised her left arm.
At a news conference Thursday at Tucson’s University Medical Center, Lemole smiled when asked if it was a miracle.
“Miracles happen every day,” he said. “In medicine, we like to very much attribute them to either what we do or others do around us. But a lot of medicine is outside of our control and we’re wise to acknowledge miracles.”
He called her movements a “leap forward.” Her doctors said her progress was not completely unexpected, but still remarkable.
Giffords was still in critical condition, with part of her skull removed to allow for brain swelling.
Few people survive a bullet to the brain – just 10 percent – and some who do end up in a vegetative state.
The fact that Giffords is alert and moving “puts her in the exceptional category,” Lemole said.
Giffords can now keep her eyes open for up to 15 minutes at a time.
Trauma chief Dr. Peter Rhee said Giffords acts like a bleary-eyed person just waking up.
She is receiving physical therapy, which includes dangling her legs from her bed while propped up by nurses. Doctors hope to have her sit in a chair today.
They also hope to remove her breathing tube – what they called the next milestone.
Kelly has remained by her side the whole time, doctors said. He is scheduled to command NASA’s last space shuttle flight, but that’s uncertain now. NASA announced a fill-in commander Thursday just in case.
Giffords survived the gunshot wound for many reasons. The path of the bullet, quick and quality medical care, and a stroke of luck meant the difference between life and death, say her doctors and brain experts.
Doctors think the bullet pierced the front of Giffords’ head and exited the back, slicing the left side of the brain, which controls speech abilities and muscles on the right side of the body.
Had the bullet damaged both sides of the brain or struck the brain stem, which connects to the spinal cord, the outcome would likely be worse: extensive permanent damage, vegetative state or death.
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