HOUSTON — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been told that she was shot. Her ability to walk and talk is improving. And doctors say there’s a good chance she’ll be able to attend her husband’s space shuttle launch next month.
Doctors provided the new details about Giffords’ condition Friday, their first official updates she began intensive rehabilitation in Houston on Jan. 26.
They described several milestones in her recovery. The developments include the removal of her breathing tube last week and her improving ability to walk with assistance and talk in complete sentences such as "I’m tired. I want to go to bed."
Dr. Imoigele Aisiku, her neurosurgeon, called the breathing tube removal a “fist-pump” moment.
"I’m very happy to report that she’s making leaps and bounds in terms of neurological recovery," added, Dr. Dong Kim, a neuroscientist. "She’s doing spectacularly well."
Her memory is also improving, and doctors believe she will not have lasting memory loss in the future.
But she does not recall the tragic event in Tucson that wounded her and 12 others and killed six people.
"She has been told both by her husband and by us, and I think she understands," Kim said.
However, it remains unclear whether Giffords knows others were killed.
Doctors also said she is showing emotion at times, including smiles when she makes key progress.
"She has a personality that’s already showing through," Kim said. "She’s very upbeat, focused on getting better. She hasn’t shown us depression, and she’s just been very forward-looking and even with the speech she’s not showing much frustration."
"That’s Gabby. It’s a constant, wonderful thing," he added.
Kim said it’s a good possibility Giffords will be able to attend her husband Mark Kelly’s space shuttle launch in April. He said doctors expect to reattach a piece of skull at some point in May but she can travel before that happens.
Part of her skull was removed to allow for brain swelling after she was shot in the head; she now wears a helmet decorated with the Arizona state flag to protect her head.
The news of her progress has been welcomed in her hometown of Tucson, where her supporters held a benefit concert on Thursday night to raise money for a fund created by a survivor of the attack. Rockers Alice Cooper and Jackson Browne were among the headline acts.
The suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, has pleaded not guilty in federal court. Authorities described him as a mentally unstable college dropout who became obsessed with carrying out violence against Giffords.
He appeared in court this week in Tucson at a hearing attended by at least three survivors of the attack.