Doctors Optimistic Rep. Giffords Will Recover

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head Saturday during an event in her district in Tucson. Giffords was among more than a dozen people wounded during the attack. Six people were killed.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On a Monday morning, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Now, let's get more details on the condition of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. NPR's Jeff Brady explains why doctors are optimistic after last weekend's shooting.

JEFF BRADY: Doctors say the bullet that struck Giffords head traveled through the left side of her brain. That's the side that generally controls the right side of the body and speaking. The chances of surviving such an injury are slim. Doing so and being able to follow simple commands is even slimmer. But Dr. Peter Rhee says he asked Giffords to show him two fingers and she did. That's significant because it shows higher brain function. More than once, Doctor Rhee said he's optimistic about how Giffords is doing.

Dr. PETER RHEE (Trauma Medical Director University of Arizona Medical Center): She's in a medical coma right now. We have induced that coma in order to rest her during the time periods. But we very frequently wake her up to see what her progress is, to make sure that something catastrophic isn't occurring while she's asleep.

BRADY: The big concern now is swelling of the brain. As of Sunday morning, doctors said that wasn't a problem. Doctors don't feel comfortable predicting what lasting effects Giffords will suffer because of this attack. Dr. Michael Lemole is the chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center in Tucson.

Dr. MICHAEL LEMOLE (Chief of neurosurgery, University Medical Center): In neurosurgery, we talk about recovery on the order of month to years. And, in fact, we don't even close the book on it until we're several years out. There is a general rule of thumb that the faster you recover the better your recovery will be. But again, that is a general rule of thumb and does not apply, necessarily, in all individual cases.

BRADY: Lemole said it's significant that the bullet stayed on the left side of the brain. He says, had it traveled to the other side, that would've made recovery more difficult.

Giffords is the only person injured who remains in critical condition. In all, 20 people were shot. Six died and the 13 others all have shown significant improvement. Their conditions have been upgraded and a few have even been released from the hospital.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Tucson.�

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