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Loughner family expresses sorrow for 'heinous' attack; doctors say Giffords making progress

Doctors in Tucson, Arizona, say Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is now breathing on her own and that they remain hopeful. But they caution recovery from this point forward will depend on her.

"I'm happy to say that she's holding her own," neurosurgeon G. Michael Lemole Jr. said of Giffords. He said she continues to follow simple commands and is able to breathe on her own without a breathing tube, although doctors prefer to keep the tube in to protect her airway and prevent infection. Lemole also said that her sedation has been reduced.

"I'm very encouraged by the fact that she has done so well," Lemole said. Given the traumatic nature of her injury - a 9mm bullet through the left side of her brain - the chances of survival, let alone recovery, were "abysmal," he said.

"She has no right to look this good, and she does," Lemole said. "We're hopeful. . . . But I do want to underscore the seriousness of this injury and the fact that we all have to be extremely patient."

Rhee disclosed that, after consultation with two military surgeons who have extensive experience in treating gunshot wounds, doctors now believe that the bullet that struck Giffords went through her skull from front to back. The physicians at University Medical Center previously said the bullet had apparently gone through from back to front, which could have happened if she had turned away from the shooting.

In response to a question, Rhee said of the entry and exit wounds, "which one is which, we can't say for sure." But he said that based on the expertise provided by the military doctors, the bullet "probably went in from the front and came out the back."

At a hospital news conference, relatives of three of the victims described the actions of their loved ones when the shooting started and spoke of their efforts to deal with the trauma.

Bill Hileman said his wife, Susan, was the adult who brought 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green to the Giffords event, dubbed "Congress on Your Corner." The child, a budding elementary school politician, was the youngest of the six people killed in the shooting spree.

Susan Hileman, a former social worker who was hit by three bullets, is expected to recover, her husband said. He said she has been experiencing flashbacks, reliving the scene as she lies in her hospital bed in a "morphine-induced haze."

Bill Hileman said: "I hear her in her semi-conscious ramblings screaming out, 'Christina! Christina! Let's get out of here! Let's get out of here!' And she keeps talking about the holding of hands and then the realization that she was on the ground and the bleeding was profuse. Her memory seems to end there."

Bill Hileman said his wife was holding the girl's hand as they waited in line to meet Giffords when the firing began. When doctors removed Susan Hileman's breathing tube, he said, the first thing she asked was what happened to Christina. He said that on the advice of a social worker, he told her the devastating truth.

"Suzie and Christina are generationally apart but very much birds of a feather," Bill Hileman said. For his wife, he said, the Giffords event "was a magnificent chance to provide a positive public female role model for little Christina." Attending it "made all kinds of sense" for the two of them, he said.

At the same news conference, two daughters of Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard, 75, hailed their stepfather, Dorwin Stoddard, 76, as a hero for trying to shield his wife when the bullets started flying. Dorwin Stoddard was killed. Mavy Stoddard was wounded in the leg and was discharged from the hospital Monday.

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