Giffords recovering from cranioplasty in Houston

HOUSTON Wed May 18, 2011 7:36pm EDT

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is pictured with her husband NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly in this November 2007 photograph from their wedding made available by the office of Rep. Giffords for Reuters on January 12, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office/Handout

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is pictured with her husband NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly in this November 2007 photograph from their wedding made available by the office of Rep. Giffords for Reuters on January 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office/Handout

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Wednesday underwent a cranioplasty in Houston, a critical step in her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head, according to hospital officials.

"The Congresswoman is recovering well after her surgery today," Memorial Hermann Hospital said in a news release announcing a media briefing on Thursday morning about her surgery and rehabilitation.

Giffords' medical team predicted two months ago that mid-May would be the anticipated timeframe for cranial repairs.

Cranioplasty is a procedure that takes approximately two hours to replace a portion of the skull with either original bone tissue or plastic implants.

In Giffords' case, her doctors have said the original fragment removed to relieve the pressure of swelling on her brain was contaminated, requiring the use of a synthetic implant held in place with titanium screws, according to the Arizona Republic.

Giffords has been undergoing therapy at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, a branch of the Memorial Hermann hospital system, since she was shot on January 8 at a public meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona.

Authorities have accused 22-year-old Jared Loughner of firing into the crowd, wounding 13 people and killing six, including a federal judge, a child, and one of Giffords' aides.

Cleared by her doctors to travel, Giffords went to Cape Canaveral, Florida, last week to watch the liftoff of the final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour, of which her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, is the crew leader. She was also seen dining out with her husband and close friends earlier this month.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor and Eric Johnson; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

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