Gabrielle Giffords's transfer to Houston for arduous rehabilitation went 'flawlessly,' doctors say

Dr. Gerard Francisco describes some of the rehabilitation Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' (D-Ariz.) will be going through at TIRR Hermann Memorial hospital in Houston. Giffords is scheduled to be moved to rehab from Tucson on Friday morning.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 21, 2011; 9:27 PM

HOUSTON - She rode to the airport in an ambulance Friday, an Arizona flag-embossed helmet protecting her exposed brain. But that didn't stop wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords from recognizing the applause from constituents on the Tucson streets.

The Arizona congresswoman smiled, according to those riding with her, and then appeared to tear up, causing an emotional moment for her husband, mother and doctors on their way to a Houston rehabilitation center.

The rest of the trip from Tucson - a two-hour flight, followed by a quick helicopter ride to the Texas Medical Center - went just as well, according to one of the passengers, Randall S. Friese, associate medical director at Tucson's University Medical Center. The transfer went "flawlessly," he said at a crowded news conference after Giffords checked into the intensive care unit at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

"She looked spectacular in all ways. Neurologically, she was alert, awake, calm and looked comfortable," added Dong Kim, director of the neuroscience department at Memorial Hermann.

Giffords will remain in intensive care until doctors are sure that they have relieved fluid in her brain that caused swelling several days ago. That swelling led doctors, shortly after she was hospitalized in Tucson, to remove a portion of her skull to ease the cranial pressure. They said they will replace that piece of skull once they see no more threat of swelling - a process that could take several weeks.

Even so, doctors stressed that they expected her to begin physical therapy Friday afternoon. Eventually, she will be transferred to the nearby TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation center, where a treatment plan is being discussed.

Friese said of the applause Giffords received on her way out of Arizona, "It was very heart-wrenching, so wonderful to see the support from Tucsonans. We're going to miss her while she's here. But this is the place she should be."

Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot above the left eye during the Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson that killed six and injured 13. Kim said the congresswoman has good movement on the left side of her body and "good tone in her leg, which is a precursor to a more full recovery." Her right leg, however, is in worse condition and might not be able to support her body weight, he said. Her arms also have less movement.

Overall, Giffords "has great rehab potential. She will keep us busy and we will keep her busy," said Gerard Francisco, the rehabilitation center's chief medical officer.

While Giffords was traveling to Houston, the Pima County sheriff's deputies who responded to the scene of the shooting recounted for the first time the frantic moments upon their arrival. They described a scene of "silent chaos" and said the carnage likely would have been much worse without the help of a $99 first-aid kit that recently became standard-issue.

It was devised by David Kleinman, a Pima County SWAT team medic, who cobbled together the "First Five Minutes" kit out of simple tools used by combat medics in Iraq and Afghanistan: an emergency bandage pioneered by the Israeli army, a strip of gauze that coagulates blood on contact, a soft tourniquet and other inexpensive materials.

It is unusual for police officers to carry such medical equipment, but the gear proved crucial, officials said. "It would have been a lot worse" without those tools, said Sheriff's Department Capt. Byron Gwaltney.

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