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Doctor: Gabrielle Giffords 'holding her own' after shooting

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Doctors are cautiously breathing a sigh of relief as Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords reaches a third day without increased swelling in her brain. Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael LeMole says Giffords condition is stable.

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 10, 2011; 11:55 AM

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's doctor said the congresswoman was "holding her own" at a hospital in Tucson early Monday morning, with CT scans showing that the swelling in her brain is not getting any worse.

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President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama led the nation in a moment of silence at 11 a.m. Eastern time to pray for Giffords and the other victims of Saturday's shooting rampage. Six people were killed, and, in addition to Giffords, 13 others were injured.

Hundreds of lawmakers and Congressional staffers stood shoulder-to-shoulder outside the Capitol in a cold wind, as flags flew at half staff at federal buildings across the country. Obama and his wife appeared on the South Lawn of the White House with scores of staff members, and stood solemnly for a minute before returning indoors. At the Supreme Court, all nine justices bent their heads and closed their eyes, and the packed courtroom fell completely silent until Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, "Thank you."

Giffords, 40, was shot through the head Saturday, allegedly targeted by a deranged constituent. Doctors said Sunday that the passage of the bullet through only one side of her brain and her initial responsiveness give hope she could survive and even possibly recover.

"We are more and more encouraged," physician Michael Lemole, who is treating Giffords, said on ABC's "Good Morning America." He said doctors "want to start getting her out of bed in coming days" to avoid blood clots, and will be watching out for signs of new internal bleeding or infection.

The Arizona Democrat has entered a crucial 48-hour period when swelling from the trauma of the bullet blast could cause as much damage to her brain as the initial wound, possibly triggering a major deterioration of her condition, medical experts said. Giffords also likely faces a long period of rehabilitation to limit permanent disabilities.

While most people who are shot in the head or suffer other severe head trauma do not survive, there have been remarkable cases of victims who have come back- such as Jim Brady, President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, who survived a gunshot wound to the head during the 1981 assassination attempt. Brady lost the use of his left arm and leg, but largely recovered otherwise.

"It's hard to say anyone is ever really completely okay after being shot in the head, but [Giffords] has a good chance of being able to walk away from this," said Arthur Kobrine, a professor of neurosurgery at Georgetown University Hospital who treated Brady's injuries. "She has the chance to move around and laugh and walk and cry and talk and maybe even return to Congress."

Brady's injury was much more serious than Giffords's, yet he made a "miraculous" recovery, Kobrine said. Still, doctors said there is no way to predict Giffords's prognosis.

"Everyone is cautious about calling it, but I am optimistic," said Peter Rhee, trauma medical director at the University Medical Center in Tucson, whose team got Giffords into neurosurgery within 38 minutes after first seeing her.

"This is about as good as it gets," Rhee said. "When you get shot and the bullet goes through your brain, the chances of your living are very small."

The shot was fired at close range, allegedly by 22-year-old Jared Loughner. It entered the congresswoman's brain at the back and exited from the front, which suggests she was turned - or turning - away from him as the shot was fired.


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