January 21, 2011 / 3:30 PM / 6 years ago

Giffords taken outside for first time

4 Min Read

<p>U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is seen in an undated handout photo provided by her Congressional campaign, January 8, 2011.Giffords for Congress/Handout</p>

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Representative Gabrielle Giffords can now stand with assistance, has tried to speak, and on Thursday got her first breath of fresh air since she was shot in the head 12 days ago, doctors and her husband said.

In a key turning point for her recuperation, the congresswoman is to be moved on Friday from the University Medical Center in Tucson, where she has been hospitalized since the shooting, to a special rehabilitation facility in Houston, Texas.

On her last full day at UMC, she was taken on a brief stroll in a wheelchair to the hospital's helipad for some sunshine and fresh air to lift her spirits, accompanied by physical therapists and her husband, said Jo Marie Gellerman, a spokeswoman for the medical facility.

"It was a chance to see the mountains (around Tucson) one more time before she leaves to go to Houston tomorrow," Gellerman said.

Doctors said exposure to natural daylight also was important in their efforts to get Giffords, 40, back into a regular sleep pattern.

At a news conference earlier in the day, doctors said she had come a long way in a short time given the severity of her injury.

"She is beginning to stand with assistance, she is scrolling through an iPad -- these are all fantastic advances for her. They do show higher cognitive function," Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurology at UMC told reporters.

"But I do want to caution ... that she has a long road ahead of her," he added.

Giffords was shot through the head on January 8 when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of constituents gathered to meet her outside a Tucson supermarket. Six bystanders including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were killed, and 13 others were wounded, Giffords among them.

A 22-year-old college dropout, Jared Lee Loughner, is charged with the shooting.

Giffords' husband, astronaut and shuttle commander Mark Kelly, said at the news conference he is confident his wife ultimately will "make a full recovery."

"I've told her that," he said. "She'll be walking and talking in two months. You'll see her walking through the front door of this building."

Kelly said he believes his wife already has tried to speak but remains unable to do so because of the breathing tube inserted into her windpipe through her neck.

"I feel she's made some attempts," he said. "She has a tracheotomy. Intellectually, she knows that's there, She knows what that means. In my mind, she's made some attempts."

Kelly also said he and his spouse are tremendously thankful for the outpouring of support they have received, especially from fellow residents of Tucson.

"One of the first things Gabby's going to want to do as soon as she's able is to start writing thank-you notes, and I've already reminded her of that."

Dr. Peter Rhee, the hospital's trauma medical director, was vague when asked how much Giffords is believed to know about the circumstances of the shooting. He said she has not been told much about the attack and doctors are unsure what if anything she remembers of the incident.

On Friday, Giffords will be transported to the TIRR Memorial Hermann Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, a world-class facility that treats people for conditions ranging from brain and spinal cord injury to multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

The plan is to drive her from UMC to an airport in Tucson, then fly her by air ambulance to Houston, where she likely will be flown by helicopter to the Memorial Hermann facility, doctors said.

Memorial Hermann is regarded as one of the leading facilities of its kind in the nation. Kelly said its relative proximity to Houston, where he has family and where NASA has a major presence, were also considerations in its selection.

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