UPDATE 1-US Rep. Giffords responsive after shooting -doctor

Sun Jan 9, 2011 12:50pm EST

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(Updates with more details)

TUCSON, Ariz Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head on Saturday at a event with constituents in Tucson, was able to communicate and follow simple commands, giving doctors a reason to be optimistic for her recovery, doctors said on Sunday.

"We are very encouraged by that," said Dr. Michael Lemole, Jr., head of neurosurgery at the hospital in Arizona where she is being treated, said. "I am cautiously optimistic."

Giffords' responses imply a "very high level" of functioning in the brain, but doctors cautioned that there were still risks. Lemole said brain swelling was the "biggest threat" at the moment.

The bullet hit an area of the brain that controls speech functions, and the wound will lead to some degeneration of brain cells, doctors said.

"She cannot speak, she's not saying the words," Dr. Peter Rhee, medical director of University Medical Center's Trauma and Critical Care, said.

The lawmaker is at a hospital in Arizona after a shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded as many as 12 as she met with constituents. (Editing by Jackie Frank)

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