Doctors Continue To Be Upbeat about Rep. Giffords

Doctors Continue To Be Upbeat about Rep. Giffords

Doctors at the University Medical Center in Tucson gave another upbeat briefing today on the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Dr. Peter Rhee, head of trauma, and Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery, were both enthusiastic about the progress Rep. Giffords is making, though also cautious that there is still a long way to go. Four other victims of the shooting are in fair condition at the hospital and one is being discharged today, they reported. Six people were killed in Saturday’s attack on Rep. Giffords while she held a constituent event in Tucson.

They confirmed what President Obama announced in his speech in Tucson last night that Rep. Giffords had opened her eyes just after he and Mrs. Obama visited her. Dr. Lemole spoke about it from a medical standpoint. He explained that it demonstrated that not only is her brain functioning in a manner where she can follow commands, which they knew, but that the “arousal center” that tells the body to awaken also is functioning. He was present when she opened her eyes along with family members, including her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and Members of Congress. (Other reports identified the latter as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)).

Lemole said that medically speaking it also indicated that Rep. Giffords is becoming aware of her surroundings. Today they are doing “aggressive physical therapy” and have her sitting up “dangling from the side of the bed,” which gives them the opportunity to determine the strength in her legs. They were delighted to see that she is able to lift both legs on command. The bullet tore through the left side of her brain, which controls movement on the right side of her body, so the fact that she could move both legs is very encouraging.

The next major medical milestone will be removing her breathing tube, which will allow doctors to assess her ability to speak. Dr. Rhee said they might remove it in the next few days, but was cautious about the timing. The doctors made it clear they are concerned about the potential for “backsliding” or the development of other medical issues — such as blood clots — if they move too quickly.

In response to a question, Dr. Lemole said that miracles happen every day in medicine and doctors sometimes like to think it is their doing, but they know full well that “a lot of medicine is outside our control.”

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