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Giffords could walk again within months, doctors say

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; A04

TUCSON - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot through the head nearly two weeks ago, could be walking again in a matter of months after a course of intensive rehabilitation in Houston, doctors and her husband said Thursday.

The congresswoman, whose injury in the Jan. 8 mass shooting in Tucson left questions about her cognitive and speech abilities, has made a "fantastic" recovery at the University of Arizona's medical center, said Michael Lemole, chief of neurology. He said that suggests she will respond well to the physical and other therapy she will receive at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, where she is scheduled to be transported Friday.

Giffords was among 19 people shot, six of them fatally, at an event she was holding for constituents outside a Safeway. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is facing murder and attempted-assassination charges in the incident.

The doctors sought to manage expectations about her condition. Although Giffords has been able to scroll through pictures on an iPad and stand and bear her own weight, they said, the status of her vision and speech is unknown.

Her husband, Mark E. Kelly, said that he believes she recognizes him and has tried to mouth some words.

"She'll smile at me. She'll do a couple things she'll only do around me, pat my face. . . . I can just look in her eyes and tell - she's well aware of who's around her, just very well aware of the situation," Kelly said. "I think she's made a remarkable recovery."

On Thursday, Giffords was taken up to the hospital's helipad to take in some sunshine for the first time since the shooting. "We let her see the Arizona skyline once before she leaves tomorrow," said emergency medicine chief Peter M. Rhee.

The congresswoman will travel to Houston on Friday by ambulance, air ambulance and then medical helicopter. Doctors said the rehabilitation will probably take months, but they declined to describe a best-case scenario.

Kelly, however, did.

"I've been telling the hospital staff she's going to walk through these halls . . . within a couple of months. I'm sure of that. So she'll be back," he said. Later, the doctors said it was possible.

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