TUESDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Arizona Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords continues her remarkable recovery after she was
gravely wounded by an assassin's bullet to her brain nine days ago:
On Sunday, her doctors upgraded her condition from critical to
Giffords underwent surgery Saturday to replace a breathing tube
that had been in place since she was shot in the attack in Tucson
that left six people dead.
The 40-year-old Giffords was breathing on her own, but the
breathing tube had been left in as a precaution. In its place,
surgeons inserted a tracheotomy tube in her windpipe, protecting
her airway and allowing her to be disconnected from a 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' "recovery
continues as planned."
Giffords can't talk because of the breathing tube, but her
husband reported Monday that she has improved so much that she was
able to smile and give him a neck rub as he sat by her side,
according to the
"She's ...gone through this traumatic injury," astronaut Mark Kelly said in an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer. "And she spends 10 minutes
giving me a neck massage. It's so typical of her that no matter how
hard the situation might be for her, you know, she's looking out
for other people."
Giffords' doctors said that, once the breathing tube is removed,
they will be able to assess whether she could speak.
"She is beginning to carry out more complex sequences [of movement] in response to our commands, and even spontaneously," Dr. Michael Lemole Jr., neurosurgery chief at University Medical Center, said. "We couldn't have hoped for any better improvement than we're seeing now."
Doctors want to ensure that Giffords doesn't regress and are
watching for pneumonia and blood clots, the
Experts said that, despite her remarkable progress, Giffords may
have suffered some permanent damage, but it's not yet clear how
extensive that damage might be.
Giffords was gravely injured, 13 others were wounded, and six
people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Jan. 8
shooting spree that took place in front of a Safeway supermarket in
Tucson, where Giffords was meeting with constituents. Jared
Loughner, 22, faces multiple murder and attempted murder charges in
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 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., 90
percent of people with gunshot wounds to the head die.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on
traumatic brain injury.