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Giffords to get plastic implant on skull

HOUSTON – Doctors will replace a piece of Gabrielle Giffords’ skull with a plastic implant today, another encouraging step in the Arizona congresswoman’s recovery from a gunshot to the head more than four months ago.

The surgery – coming just days after Giffords traveled to Florida to watch her astronaut husband launch into space – was confirmed to the Associated Press by two people familiar with the congresswoman’s care.

Doctors removed a piece of Giffords’ skull to allow room for brain swelling shortly after a would-be assassin shot her in the head Jan. 8, critically wounding her, killing six people and injuring 12 others at a political event in her hometown of Tucson, Ariz.

The three-term Democratic congresswoman has been wearing a helmet adorned with an Arizona state flag. Doctors said when she arrived in Houston in late January they hoped to do the cranial surgery in May.

Dr. Richard Riggs, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the surgery to place the plastic implant is relatively simple. Recovery is short – a day or two at the most – and is mostly from the effects of anesthesia, he said.

“This gives her quality of life because she won’t have to worry about the helmet and protection when moving around,” said Riggs, who is not involved in Giffords’ care.

The implant is placed under the scalp, allowing hair to grow on top so it is not visible.