News24

US: Gabrielle Giffords' condition improves

2011-01-17 09:04

Tucson - In yet another sign of significant recovery during a remarkable week, the gravely wounded US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was upgraded from critical to serious condition after a procedure to remove her from a ventilator was successful.

Doctors have been positive, and at time almost giddy, in describing her progress since she was shot point blank in the head on January 8.

Giffords responded from the moment she arrived at the emergency room, at first just squeezing a doctor's hand. Then she raised two fingers. She opened her unbandaged eye shortly after President Barack Obama's bedside visit on Wednesday. Then, more milestones - which doctors said were all indicative of higher cognitive function - were achieved, all with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at her side.

Kelly asked her to give him a thumbs-up on Sunday if she could hear him. She did more than that. She slowly raised her left arm. By the end of the week, she had moved her legs and arms.

Doctors decided to upgrade her condition because the tracheotomy done a day earlier was uneventful, hospital spokesperson Katie Riley said. A feeding tube was also put in on Saturday, and doctors speculated that they might soon know if she could speak.

Few people survive a bullet to the brain - just 10% - and some who do end up in a vegetative state. It is even rarer for people with gunshot wounds to the head to regain all of their abilities, and doctors have cautioned that the full extent of Giffords' recovery remains uncertain.

Shooting victim arrested

Giffords and 18 others were shot when a gunman opened fire at a meet-and-greet she was hosting outside a supermarket in her own hometown. Six people died, including Giffords' popular community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman.

At funeral services for Zimmerman on Sunday, Kelly told the about 700 people gathered that his wife was inspired by Zimmerman's idealism and warmth, according to the Arizona Republic.

Meanwhile, a week after the Tucson supermarket massacre, more details emerged about one of shooting victims who police said became distraught and was arrested during a televised town hall meeting.

James Eric Fuller, a self-described liberal and military veteran, started ranting at the end of the programme on Saturday. He took a picture of a local tea party leader and yelled "you're dead" before calling others in the church a bunch of "whores", authorities said.

Deputies called a doctor and decided he should be taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation, said Pima County sheriff's spokesperson Jason Ogan said.

No one answered the door on Sunday at Fuller's home.

Second Amendment activism

In media interviews and on the internet, Fuller, a former limousine driver and Census worker, has said he worked hard to get Giffords re-elected in her conservative-leaning district.

He was going over questions he had prepared for the congresswoman, when the shooting began, he said in an interview with the television show Democracy Now.

He was shot in the knee and back and drove himself to the hospital, where he spent two days.

"I didn't know how to calm myself down," he said on the TV show, "so I wrote down the Declaration of Independence, which I memorised some time ago. And that did help to organise my thoughts."

He also lashed out at conservative Republicans for "Second Amendment activism", arguing it set the stage for the shooting. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right "to bear arms".

The man Fuller is accused of threatening, conservative Tucson Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries, said he was worried about the threat, and the dozens of other angry e-mails he has received.

"I had nothing to do with the murders that happened or the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords," said Humphries, who was on his way on Sunday to attend services for his friend Dorwan Stoddard, 76. "And I wonder if he (Fuller) is crazy or is he the canary in a coal mine? Is he saying what a lot of other people are holding in their hearts? If so, that's a problem."