Giffords makes 'leaps and bounds' in recovery

Doctors for Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords say she is making 'leaps and bounds' in her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head. They also say her memory and speech are improving. (March 11)

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The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 7:11 PM

HOUSTON -- She can talk, even saying short sentences. With some help, she can walk. She also knows that she was shot.

But for doctors, some of the greatest moments in treating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords occur when her true personality shines through and she shares big grins and excitement over milestones in her recovery from a devastating gunshot wound to the head.

"That's Gabby. It's a constant, wonderful thing," said Dr. Dong Kim, a neuroscientist.

Doctors provided the new details about Giffords' condition Friday, their first official update since she began intensive rehabilitation in Houston on Jan. 26. Until now, tidbits of information came from friends and family, but the doctors, those with the understanding and knowledge of what each setback and step forward means for long-term recovery, remained tight-lipped.

Kim and two other members of her medical team described several breakthroughs in Giffords' recovery from her brain injury, saying she has made "leaps and bounds."

He breathing tube was removed last week, a "fist-pump" moment, said Dr. Imoigele Aisiku, a neurosurgeon. She also can express desires, such as "I'm tired. I want to go to bed."

Giffords can't remember the shooting, but her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, has told her about the incident, though it remains unclear whether she knows six people were killed and 12 others injured at the Jan. 8 political event outside a supermarket in Tucson, Ariz.

The demeanor of the news conference was largely subdued - until the doctors were asked whether Giffords' personality was starting to surface. Then, the three men grinned and nodded simultaneously. They snickered with affection.

"She has a personality that's already showing through," Kim said. "She's very upbeat, focused on getting better. She hasn't shown us depression, and she's just been very forward-looking and even with the speech she's not showing much frustration."

"I feel like I know her very well. She's able to express her personality, she's able to express what she wants and doesn't want," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the head of Giffords medical team.

That Giffords is showing emotion is especially encouraging because the bullet pierced the front of her head, an area that controls personality. Some people shot in the front may recover their ability to speak but never truly show emotion again, said Dr. Steve Williams, chairman of rehabilitative medicine at Boston University.

"So the fact that she actually is able to show emotion is good because many people have very flat personalities," after being shot in the front of the head, Williams said.

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© 2011 The Associated Press

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