‘Beat up but not beaten,’ Giffords speaks in first TV interview since shooting

November 14, 2011

Ten months after a gunman shot her at point-blank range at a constituent event in Tucson, Rep. Gabrielle Gifffords (D-Ariz.) appeared on national television Monday night, sang along to the Broadway show tune “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and said she wanted to get better more than she wanted to return to Congress.

Appearing on ABC News’s “20/20” with Diane Sawyer, Giffords struggled to form sentences and needed help walking.

The show documented her difficult journey back from the damage inflicted by a bullet that fractured her skull and pierced the left side of her brain, passing from the front to the back of her head.

Three months ago, she made a surprise return to the House to triumphantly cast her vote on the debt-ceiling deal.

In her first television interview since the January shooting that killed six and wounded 13, Giffords smiled, laughed and sang — and described her recovery as “difficult.”

Asked by Sawyer how she feels, Giffords, 41, responded, “Pretty good.”

The interview with Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, was part of an hour-long “20/20” special that aired on the eve of the release of the couple’s new book, “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.”

The special traced Giffords’s recovery since the Jan. 8 shooting. In videos shot by Kelly in the first few weeks, she is seen in her hospital bed, her head shaved and a long scar across her forehead. She is capable only of holding up one or two fingers as her husband encourages her.

Months later, Giffords is seen sitting up in a wheelchair as therapists teach her how to perform simple actions. A nod of the head. A pucker of the lips. And then, her first word: “What.” Within days, Giffords uttered another word — “toast,” a request for a change in her breakfast menu.

Videos aired by ABC show that music played a central role in Giffords’s recovery: The congresswoman is seen singing along with therapists to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’. ”

In the interview with Sawyer, Giffords, who goes through two hours of therapy every day, said she has no memory of the day of the shooting. Her husband said that he was reading Giffords a newspaper story about the shooting on March 12 when she stopped him to ask for the first time about the six who had been killed in the incident. Suspected gunman Jared Lee Loughner is being held at a Missouri prison and is being forcibly medicated as he awaits trial.

“A lot of people died,” Giffords told Sawyer. “Tough, tough, tough.”

At one point in his wife’s recovery, Kelly told Sawyer, she said, “I’ve been beaten.”

“So, I would say, ‘Gabby, you have not been beaten,’ ” Kelly said. “ ‘You’ve just been beat up. And you’re going to get through this, and you’re going to recover and you’re going to come back stronger than ever.’ ”

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