The Associated Press

HOUSTON - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords smiled inside an ambulance as she heard applause during a dramatic send-off from her hometown Friday, and doctors say her transfer by jet and helicopter to a hospital in Houston went flawlessly.

Throngs of sign-carrying well-wishers lined the streets in Tucson to wave and cheer.

"She responded very well to that - smiling and even tearing a little bit," said Dr. Randall Friese, a surgeon at the University Medical Center trauma center in Tucson. "It was very emotional and very special."

Friese and Giffords' doctors in Houston spoke Friday afternoon at a news conference at Texas Medical Center. Doctors say Giffords has a drain in her brain because of a fluid buildup, so she will stay for now in the ICU because of the risk of infection. Parts of her skull were removed after she was shot in the forehead, and they have not yet been replaced, so Giffords is wearing a specially made helmet to protect her brain.

It will be at least next week before she is moved to Texas Medical Center's TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital, and she faces months of rigorous therapy. Doctors said she was to have her first rehab session in the ICU on Friday afternoon.

"She looks spectacular," said Dr. Dong Kim, neurosurgery chief at Texas Medical Center's University of Texas Health Science Center.

A gunman shot Giffords and 18 other people Jan. 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died; all other survivors have been released from the hospital. The suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, is in federal custody.

Giffords has been making progress nearly every day at University Medical Center in Tucson. Her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, tweeted Friday: "GG going to next phase of her recover today. Very grateful to the docs and nurses at UMC, Tucson PD, Sheriffs Dept. . . . Back in Tucson ASAP!"

Kelly traveled with Giffords, her mother, a doctor and other medical workers. She napped as a specially outfitted jet took her to Houston, then a helicopter took her from the Houston airport to the ICU at Texas Medical Center, where she will be evaluated before going to the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital. U.S. Capitol Police arrived Thursday afternoon to set up extra security measures at the 119-bed facility.

Despite the steady progress, doctors warn Giffords has a long road to recovery. They are not sure what, if any, disability she will have.

She moves her lips, but it's not clear whether she is mouthing words, or how much she can see.

"Not everyone always gets 100 percent restoration, but we help them to get to a new normal," said Carl Josehart, chief executive of the rehab hospital that will be Giffords' home for the next month or two.

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