Giffords's condition upgraded

Colleagues pay tribute to wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the president's State of the Union address as the Arizona lawmaker begins the next phase of her recovery at a rehab facility in Houston.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 17, 2011; 3:24 PM

TUCSON - Doctors on Monday said that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords continues to make progress in her recovery. She was upgraded Sunday from critical to serious condition after doctors determined that there were no complications from having her ventilator removed a day earlier.

At a briefing Monday for the media, University Medical Center doctors said that Giffords (D-Ariz.) underwent a minor, two-hour procedure on Saturday to repair a fracture in her right eye, and that a feeding tube was put in for nutrition.

Doctors said bone fragments were pushing down on her right eye and eye socket. The procedure was not done sooner because of concern about the impact of swelling on the brain. Doctors said it doesn't appear that her left eye needs any repairs.

Giffords was among 19 people shot during a rampage at a campaign event Jan. 8; six died and 13 were injured in the assault, allegedly carried out by Jared Lee Loughner.

Ten of the survivors have been released from the hospital and two others are listed in good condition, medical officials said.

Giffords is breathing on her own through a tube in her windpipe. She had been breathing independently, but the ventilator had been a preventive measure.

To do the procedure on the eye, doctors said they removed a piece of skull and bone fragments to take pressure off the eye and reconstructed the area using a metal mesh. It was done through an incision in the eyebrow.

Within a few hours of surgery, Giffords was waking up and came back to the same "baseline" as before, said Michael Lemole, a neurosurgeon.

Doctors said they are not sure whether Giffords can see, and that she needs to undergo a full ophthalmological exam. Lemole said, "Our suspicion is that she can see something."

Lemole said Giffords is "recognizing her husband and interacting with him in old, familiar ways." Doctors said her husband has reported that she is occasionally smiling.

Asked whether Giffords knew what had happened to her, one of Giffords's doctors - Randall Friese, associate medical director and associate professor of surgery - said he had told Giffords of the shooting incident and what had happened, and she had squeezed his hand.

The next step, doctors said, is repairing Giffords's skull, a task they said is "many months down the road," and moving her into the rehabilitation phase. Doctors said her family is looking at facilities around the country for her rehabilitation, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center and facilities in Houston and Phoenix.

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