Giffords cleared to attend shuttle launch: husband

HOUSTON Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:18pm EDT

Space shuttle Endeavour sits atop launch pad 39A after arriving from the Vehicle Assembly Building to prepare for Mission STS-134 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Florida March 11, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Space shuttle Endeavour sits atop launch pad 39A after arriving from the Vehicle Assembly Building to prepare for Mission STS-134 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Florida March 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Astronaut Mark Kelly says doctors have cleared his wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, now recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, as healthy enough to attend his space shuttle launch on Friday.

Word that Giffords had been given a medical approval to make the trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the blastoff, which President Barack Obama also plans to attend, came in CBS Evening News interview slated to be broadcast on Monday.

The network released excerpts from Katie Couric's interview with Kelly on Sunday.

"Yes, I've met with her doctors, her neurosurgeon and her doctors. And ... they've given us permission to take her down to the launch," Kelly said.

Asked Giffords' reaction to hearing that she's been given the green light to attend the launch, Kelly said, "I think she said, 'awesome,' and she pumped her fist."

James Campbell, a spokesman for the Houston hospital where she is undergoing rehabilitation, told Reuters in an e-mail on Sunday the hospital plans to issue a statement about her plans to travel on Monday.

The event would mark the first extended outing the Arizona Democrat has made from a hospital environment since she was gunned down as she met with a group of constituents outside a Tucson, Arizona supermarket on January 8.

Six people were killed and 13 others were wounded, Giffords among them, when a gunman opened fire on the congresswoman and bystanders. Jared Loughner, 22, a college dropout with a history of erratic behavior, is charged with the shooting.

Kelly, the commander of NASA's next-to-last scheduled shuttle mission, took a leave of absence after Giffords was wounded but returned to work in February after she was transferred to the Houston rehabilitation center.

The Endeavour mission led by Kelly will be delivering equipment to the International Space Station. NASA plans to fly one last mission with sister ship Atlantis in June before ending the 30-year-old shuttle program.

Kelly told Couric that the injury to the left side of his wife's brain has made it difficult for her to regain her ability to walk to and to speak but left the right hemisphere, which controls personality and cognitive functions, intact.

"Her personality's a hundred percent there," he told Couric.

The Arizona Republic reported on Sunday that Giffords still struggles to piece together lengthy sentences but can articulate brief phrases such as "love you" and "I miss Tucson."

The newspaper said she is working to improve the use of her right arm and leg through therapy that involves pushing a grocery cart, bowling and indoor golf.

She can walk a bit on her own and is working on improving her gait, Dr. Gerard Francisco, the chief medical officer at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, told the newspaper.

The Arizona Republic based its reporting on interviews with Giffords' doctors, husband, congressional staff, and a nurse.

"Her left side is perfect," Pia Carusone, her chief of staff, is quoted as saying. "She can do whatever you can do."

Kelly said his wife learned that people had died and others were wounded when he was reading her a New York Times story about the shooting one day in March and, noticing he had skipped a paragraph, she grabbed the newspaper from his hand.

Giffords cried and said, "So many people, so many people," according to the Arizona Republic.

But Kelly said he still has not told his wife that the dead included a Gabe Zimmerman from her staff, a federal judge who was a friend, and a 9-year-old girl.

(Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Peter Bohan)