SUNDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Arizona congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords underwent surgery Saturday to replace the
breathing tube that had been in place since she was shot through
the head a week ago in an attack in Tucson that killed six
Giffords had been breathing on her own, but the breathing tube
had been left in place as a precaution. In its place, surgeons
inserted a tracheotomy tube in her windpipe, protecting her airway
and allowing her to be disconnected from the ventilator, according
to officials at University Medical Center in Tucson, where Giffords
is being treated.
Doctors also inserted a feeding tube. Both procedures, according
to the hospital, are common in people hospitalized with brain
The hospital issued a statement saying that Giffords's "recovery
continues as planned." She remains in critical condition.
Her doctors said earlier that, once the breathing tube was
removed, they would be able to assess whether she could speak.
On Friday, doctors said Giffords was "continuing to make all the
right moves in all the right directions" toward recovery. The
Wall Street Journal reported that she has defied the odds and
continued show improved function day by day.
"She is beginning to carry out more complex sequences [of movement] in response to our commands, and even spontaneously," said Dr. Michael Lemole Jr., neurosurgery chief at Tucson's University Medical Center. "We couldn't have hoped for any better improvement than we're seeing now."
Giffords' doctors say she has been opening her eyes more often
since she first did so Wednesday. That was the day she also touched
the wedding ring worn by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, after
being asked by him to do so.
On Thursday morning, doctors said Giffords was able to keep her
eyes open for up to 15 minutes at a time and could move her legs
and one of her hands, the
New York Times reported.
"She is doing some fairly specific things with her left hand," Dr. Peter Rhee, the hospital's chief of trauma, said at the time. "She is yawning. She is starting to rub her eyes."
Lemole also noted that Giffords could also "move both of her
legs to command," the newspaper reported.
Doctors want to ensure that Giffords doesn't regress and are
watching for pneumonia and blood clots, the
Associated Press reported.
Experts also said that, despite her remarkable progress so far,
Giffords may have suffered some permanent damage, but it's not yet
clear how extensive that damage might be.
Dr. David Langer, director of cerebrovascular research at the
Cushing Neuroscience Institutes, part of North Shore/Long Island
Jewish Medical Center in Great Neck, N.Y., said: "She's probably
going to survive in all likelihood, but months or even a year from
now we may not know what her ultimate prognosis will be."
"She'll likely have a deficit in the near term, but we don't know if she'll end up in a wheelchair like James Brady [President Ronald Reagan's press secretary who was injured by a bullet during a 1981 assassination attempt on the president] or a functioning Congresswoman. We can't know," added Langer, who was not involved with Giffords' care.
Giffords was gravely injured, 13 others were wounded, and six
people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the shooting
spree that took place in front of a Safeway supermarket in Tucson,
where Giffords was meetings constituents. Jared Loughner, 22, faces
multiple murder and attempted murder charges in the shootings.
Giffords, a Democrat, was first elected to the House of
Representatives in 2006.
The fact that Giffords is alive is a bit of a miracle.
According to Langer, 90 percent of people with gunshot wounds to
the head die.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on
traumatic brain injury.