Giffords speaks as she improves 'in all areas', staff says
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., continuing her rapid recovery from a gunshot wound to the forehead, is speaking "more and more every day" in response to rigorous speech therapy conducted during rehabilitation at Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann, according to her staff.
Press secretary C.J. Karamargin, speaking by phone from Tucson, Ariz., told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday that his boss had begun speaking "recently," often using more than one word. She ordered toast for breakfast one recent morning, he said.
"(She's talking) more and more every day," Karamargin said. "She is improving in all areas."
Karamargin declined to give any examples of words or phrases spoken by the congresswoman besides toast.
Giffords' apparent recovery of the ability to speak is the latest milestone in a recovery TIRR doctors have said is occurring at "lightning speed." The spoken words came about a month after she was shot during a gunman's rampage in Tucson. Six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, were killed outside a grocery where Giffords was meeting with constituents on Jan. 8. Giffords was one of 13 injured.
The congresswoman on Jan. 26 was transferred to The Institute for Research and Rehabilitation, the Memorial Hermann Hospital System's elite rehab center, following two weeks in the intensive care unit of University Medical Center in Tucson and five days in Memorial Hermann's Texas Medical Center hospital ICU.
Memorial Hermann on Wednesday declined to make any TIRR doctors available to comment on Giffords' apparent speaking breakthrough.
Hard work paying off
Karamargin attributed Giffords' newly regained speaking ability to her work with hospital staff on "all sorts of language and speech exercises" as part of the rehabilitation process.
"It's a combination effort — her team pushing her and the congresswoman pushing herself. They're both working hard, and it's paying off," Karamargin said.
Dr. Stephanie Sneed, a brain injury specialist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, said assessing Giffords' progress based only on reports she's begun speaking a word or more is difficult because "there's no typical timeline and breakthroughs occur at various times in rehab."
"But anything new a patient starts doing is an encouraging sign," Sneed said. "They allow doctors to capitalize on the new skill and challenge the patient more."
Sneed said the frustrating part of rehab is when the patient goes sustained periods without breaking through and accomplishing tasks.
Pia Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff, Wednesday evening told The CBS Evening News that the congresswoman asked her for toast a few days ago during her breakfast of oatmeal and yogurt. She said it wasn't the first time Giffords had spoken.
Husband Mark Kelly, a League City astronaut, posted Tuesday on Facebook that Giffords had her appetite back and was eating three times a day, "even though it's hospital food."
"It is hard to believe that only one month has passed since Gabrielle was shot," he wrote. "The doctors say she is recovering at lightning speed considering her injury, but they aren't kidding when they say this is a marathon process."
Carusone also said Giffords is supportive of Kelly's decision, announced last week, to command space shuttle Endeavour's flight in April. She said that "he's kept her up to date throughout this whole process and his thinking, (and) she certainly understands it."
Talking 'not a surprise'
Kelly said last week he expects the congresswoman to be well enough by April to be at the mission. Dr. Gerard Francisco, who is leading Giffords' care at TIRR, said Tuesday that's a good goal but that it's too early to say if she can make enough progress by then.
Karamargin said that Giffords talking "is not a surprise" to people who know her.
"We know her as a woman of grit and determination, and we're seeing that now," Karamargin said. "We are all very excited and elated with this latest news. We've known for a few days. It's hard to keep good news contained."
In related news, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that the FBI and the Pima County Sheriff's Office have finished their investigations into the shooting. An FBI spokesman said all materials have been turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution, including a computer and handwritten notes found in a safe in suspect Jared Loughner's home that read "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and "Giffords." One note said "Die, bitch," which authorities believe was a reference to Giffords.
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