January 19, 2011 / 1:47 AM / 9 years ago

Giffords' family search for rehabilitation facility

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Family and friends of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords have searched the country for the ideal convalescent facility as the congresswoman nears her transition from recovery to rehabilitation 11 days after being shot through the head.

Items from well-wishers are seen at the office of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona January 17, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

“They have been looking all across the nation at rehab facilities that are best equipped ... for the type of injuries she has,” Giffords spokesman Mark Kimble said, though he declined to confirm a CNN report that she would be transferred to a Texas facility on Friday.

Giffords remains in serious condition at Tucson’s University Medical Center. Her neurosurgeon has deemed her recovery thus far “miraculous.”

Dr. Michael Lemole, who operated on Giffords the day of the shooting, said Monday that her transfer from the hospital to rehabilitation will be the lawmaker’s next milestone.

“That’s her graduation,” Lemole said.

Giffords was shot 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, who authorities described as mentally unstable, is charged with the shooting.

Giffords’s medical condition was upgraded on Sunday from critical to serious after doctors removed a breathing tube that ran from a ventilator down her throat. They replaced it with a tracheotomy tube inserted through her neck and directly into her windpipe.

The tracheotomy and a feeding tube prevent her from speaking, and doctors described her over the weekend as largely incommunicative. But close relatives insist she is aware of her surroundings and socially interactive.

Giffords unfastened her husband’s tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt after he had attended a memorial service for one of the other shooting victims, and she has begun reading cards sent by elementary school children, CNN reported Wednesday , citing an email from Giffords’ mother to family and friends.

Doctors want to start aggressive rehabilitation soon, and Giffords will move to a Houston facility Friday, the report said.

Neither the hospital nor Kimble would confirm the report or give details on Giffords’ condition.

Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune

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