Giffords takes next step in recovery

2011-01-20 18:32
Tucson - In the latest milestone in Representative Gabrielle Giffords's remarkable recovery, the wounded congresswoman stood up and looked out of a window, even as preparations got underway to move her to Houston for extensive mental and physical rehabilitation.

Her swift transition from an intensive care unit to a rehab centre is based on the latest research, which shows the sooner rehab starts, the better patients recover.

Giffords's family hopes to move the Arizona congresswoman on Friday to TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, where her husband lives and works as an astronaut.

"I am extremely hopeful at the signs of recovery that my wife has made since the shooting," Mark Kelly said in a statement released by her congressional office.

The staff at University Medical Centre in Tucson "has stabilised her to the point of being ready to move to the rehabilitation phase".

Relearning how to think, plan

Her progress was evident on Wednesday as she stood on her feet with assistance from medical staff, hospital spokesperson Janet Stark said.

During rehabilitation she will have to relearn how to think and plan. It's unclear if she is able to speak or how well she can see. And while she is moving both arms and legs, it's uncertain how much strength she has on her right side.

A gunman shot Giffords and 18 other people on January 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson.

Six people died and the other wounded. All survivors have been released from hospitals except Giffords.

The suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Phoenix Wednesday, accused of attempting to assassinate Giffords and trying to kill two of her aides.

It does not include two murder charges listed in an earlier criminal complaint for the deaths of Giffords's aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30, and US District Judge John Roll, 63.

Those are potential death penalty charges and prosecutors said they require a more painstaking process. Additional charges are likely.

Amazing recovery

Loughner is in federal custody. He is set for a preliminary hearing on Monday in Phoenix.

Though Giffords remains in serious condition, her recovery has amazed her family and impressed her doctors.

John Holcomb, retired Army colonel and a trauma surgeon at the Houston hospital, praised the care she received in Tucson and said Giffords would "move quickly toward a tailored and comprehensive rehab plan".

Over the weekend, Giffords was weaned off the ventilator and had her breathing tube replaced with a tracheotomy tube in her windpipe.

Doctors also inserted a feeding tube to boost her calorie intake and repaired her right eye socket, which was damaged by the bullet.

Since being taken off sedation, Giffords has been alert and opening her eyes more often. She also started rigorous physical therapy, dangling her legs over her bedside to exercise her muscles and sitting in a chair for periods at a time.

Kelly told ABC in an interview that she gave him a neck rub.

Rapid rehab

Still, the extent of her injuries and long-term prognosis won't be known for some time.

"When she's medically stable, there's really no reason to keep her there," where she could get infections and other complications long known to plague patients with long hospital stays, said Steve Williams, rehabilitation chief at Boston Medical Centre and the Boston University School of Medicine.

"Over the last five to 10 years, there has been a big push to getting patients rapidly to rehab," because research shows they recover faster and better the earlier therapy starts, he said.

Giffords will likely be moved to Houston by Medevac jet, Williams said, and there is little risk of a brain injury from flying.

- SAPA
Read more on:    gabrielle giffords  |  us  |  us shooting
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