THURSDAY, Jan. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Arizona Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords began intensive rehabilitation therapy in
Houston Thursday, another stunning step forward for the lawmaker
who was shot in the brain earlier this month.
The therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital could last several
months. As a first move, to help her talk, doctors planned to
insert a valve into her breathing tube, the
Associated Press reported.
Doctors, however, have not confirmed that Giffords is actually
able to speak. "We can say that her speech function, along with
everything else, is improving," neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim told the
AP, but he would not elaborate.
Giffords was transferred to TIRR Wednesday from a nearby
hospital, where she was in intensive care because of a buildup of
fluid in her brain. But late Wednesday, doctors announced that,
prior to her transfer, they had removed the catheter used to drain
the fluid, the
The congresswoman has been making surprisingly strong progress
since she was shot in the head Jan. 8. Before being cleared for
rehabilitation in Houston, she was hospitalized at University
Medical Center in Tucson where she scrolled through an iPad,
identified different colored objects and moved her lips. Still,
they weren't sure if she was mouthing words, and they didn't know
how well she can see, the
The encouraging medical updates out of Tucson indicated that
Giffords has a high level of motor and emotional function, experts
"The fact that she is able to communicate, that she is able to stand and walk, the fact that she is moving both hands is a good thing," said Dr. Kester Nedd, an associate professor of neurology and director of neuro-rehabilitation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"Motor function is a very strong predictor of outcome," he said. In addition, her ability to express emotion and interpret human interactions, which are some of the highest levels of cognitive function, means her chances of recovery are very good, Nedd added.
Giffords was one of 18 people shot by a gunman outside a Tucson
supermarket, where the 40-year-old, three-term lawmaker had been
meeting with constituents. On Monday, the suspect in the shootings,
Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, pleaded not guilty to federal
charges of attempting to kill Giffords and trying to kill two of
her aides, the
TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston is one of the best
rehabilitation centers in the country, said Dr. Steve Williams,
chief and chairman of the department of rehabilitation medicine at
Boston Medical Center and professor and chairman of rehabilitation
medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Nedd noted that Giffords is already starting at a very high
level of functioning. "She was blessed," he said. "A lot of the
force of the bullet that struck her was dissipated by the skull and
the bullet exiting," he said. Also the injury was not to the deep
brain, he added.
One of the first steps in rehabilitation is to help patients
regain the ability to take care of themselves. "This is called
activities of daily living," Nedd explained.
Giffords' rehabilitation will most likely center on her speaking
ability and the processes of thinking, Williams said. She may be
given medications, such as Ritalin, to stimulate the brain, he
One rehab goal is to retrain the brain to take over functions
that may have been lost or damaged by trauma, experts said. This is
done through repetition, Nedd said. "The brain has the ability to
shift function from one part of the brain to another," he said.
Giffords will probably remain at TIRR Memorial Hermann for a
month or two, then continue rehabilitation on an outpatient basis,
perhaps for a year or more, Williams said.
Giffords, a Democrat, was elected to the House of
Representatives in 2006.
For more information on traumatic brain injury, visit the
U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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