Giffords Arrives at Rehabilitation Facility in Houston
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HOUSTON -- Nearly two weeks after a gunman shot her in the head at an outdoor meeting with voters, Representative Gabrielle Giffords was transferred by air Friday to Memorial Hermann hospital here to begin what is likely to be a long and arduous rehabilitation.
The wounded lawmaker, whose against-the-odds fight for survival has inspired people across the country, received a warm farewell from her hometown. Well-wishers lined the streets of Tucson and waved at her ambulance as it went from the hospital to an airport. Some held signs, balloons and flowers. Television helicopters buzzed overhead.
"We want her to heal and come back to us," said Marcia Paris, a retiree. "I'm not a doctor, but she rode horses and rode motorcycles and was so vibrant that I just know she'll be back."
Inside the ambulance, Ms. Giffords grinned and her eyes welled up when she heard the applause from the crowds, said Dr. Randall S. Friese, a trauma surgeon who traveled with her. "She smiled and then she began to tear a little bit," he said. "I think she understood the immense support from our city."
Ms. Giffords was taken to Davis-Monthan Air Force base, where medics lifted her into to a specially equipped private jet, owned by a family friend. The jet landed at William P. Hobby Airport here at about 1:30 p.m. and a helicopter ferried her to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
She was immediately placed in an intensive care unit, where six doctors assessed her condition. Dr. Dong H. Kim, a neurosurgeon, said Ms. Giffords was alert and interacted with her new doctors as they ran tests, at one point pushing a bright light away from her eyes. She also moved her lips as if to speak. "There is no question she is aware of what's happening," Dr. Kim said.
Dr. Friese said the transfer "went flawlessly." Ms. Giffords spent most of the flight napping or interacting with her husband, Capt. Mark E. Kelly, an astronaut. Her vital signs remained stable.
A nurse on the flight, Tracy Culbert, said she gave the congresswoman one of her rings after she tried to touch it. "She took it into her hand and she was looking at it, turning it to see all sides," Ms. Culbert said.
Before leaving Tucson, the congresswoman had made remarkable progress, despite having a bullet pass through the upper left lobe of her brain, her doctors and her husband said. She was able to distinguish colors and shapes and to support her own weight.
Though she has yet to speak, she appears to understand much of what is said to her, and can follow simple commands, like taking hold of a pencil, Captain Kelly said.
Still, Ms. Giffords, who is 40, faces months of physical therapy to relearn skills lost when the bullet traversed her brain. It remains unclear whether the parts of the brain controlling language were damaged.
Dr. Kim said she could move her left side with ease, but the muscles on her right side are in various stages of paralysis and weakness. The damaged lobe controls the right side.
A gunman shot Ms. Giffords and 18 other people on Jan. 8 as she met with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson. Six of the victims died, among them a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge.
She will remain in intensive care until she is well enough to be transferred to the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann, which specializes in helping victims of spinal and brain injuries. But she will begin receiving some physical therapy right away in the intensive care unit, her doctors said.
First Published January 22, 2011 12:01 am