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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.

In Houston, Giffords will get a standard room - a hospital bed, a bathroom - in a relatively private wing of the rehabilitation center.

"It's very spartan," Francisco said. "We don't plan to treat her any differently than we treat someone with a similar injury. It's business as usual. It's the rehabilitation program that we would provide anyone with this type of impairment."

TIRR is a highly renowned rehabilitation center, ranked No. 5 in the nation last year by U.S. News & World Report. Its 200 staffers treat 119 inpatients and handle 46,000 outpatient visits each year, according to information provided by the hospital.

Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, an astronaut who trains at Houston's Johnson Space Center, said the family chose TIRR over facilities in Washington, New York and Chicago in part because of its proximity to his work and family. Carl Josehart, TIRR's chief executive, said families are encouraged to participate actively in the recovery process because they will be expected to provide care at home once the patient is released.

Like her fellow patients, Giffords will spend the better part of her days working out in one of the rehabilitation center's half-dozen gymnasiums. Each is equipped with what Francisco fondly referred to as his "toys" - a bevy of high-tech exercise equipment, muscle stimulators and robotic devices designed to help patients regain muscle control, coordination and cognition.

There is a therapeutic pool, which includes a hydraulic lift to help injured patients into the water and a body-weight treadmill, on which patients are strapped to a harness that supports them while they walk (hospital staffers also provide assistance). There are special recumbent stationary bikes that pulse electrodes into patients to stimulate muscles. And there is a tilting table, to which patients who have trouble standing are strapped so they can slowly be adjusted into a standing position.

In addition to physical therapy, staff members will help Giffords with speech and language, her cognitive ability and the skills needed to perform daily activities such as brushing her teeth and getting dressed, Francisco said.

The facility has a special kitchen and a washer and dryer - spaces and equipment where patients can practice basic household chores that help assess their readiness to reenter ordinary life.

Francisco acknowledged that there is no guarantee that Giffords, or any patient who has suffered a severe brain injury, will return to full health.

"It's a function of what part of brain is damaged and the extent of the injury," he said. "Some with brain injury like this lose the ability to speak, lose the ability to understand. Their personality changes, they have problems with memory. It changes how they relate to people."

Giffords is already showing signs of relating to people. During the trip, she grabbed a ring from the hand of Tucson nurse Tracy Culbert, who has attended her since the shooting and accompanied her on the plane. Culbert put the ring on Giffords's finger. When Friese later tried to take the ring back from Giffords, the congresswoman tried not to let it go, the doctor said.

Recounting the tale, Culbert said: "Do you want me to cry? It's very emotional. She's a very gentle person and her personality is coming out. The way that she touches us. The way that she looks at us. I'm very lucky to know her." Somashekhar reported from Tucson. Staff writer Sari Horwitz contributed to this report from Tucson.

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