Office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Gloria Giffords (center), Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's mother, talks with her daughter on the flight to Houston from Arizona. Capt. Mark Kelly (far left), the representative's husband, talks with Tracy Culbert (center right), a nurse.
Gloria Giffords (center), Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's mother, talks with her daughter on the flight to Houston from Arizona. Capt. Mark Kelly (far left), the representative's husband, talks with Tracy Culbert (center right), a nurse. Office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Danny Vaughan is retired Houston police officer who found his way back from a devastating brain injury after spending six months at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, the same rehab facility that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords moved to last month.
Like Giffords, Vaughan was shot in the head by a complete stranger. And as with Giffords, the media chronicled his recovery.
That was 17 years ago. Vaughan was shot on-duty at the police station by a young man named Gilbert Smith who, like Gifford's shooter, was 22 years old and intent on killing authority figures.
Smith fired the first bullet into Vaughan's right eye, the second into his nostril and finished by shooting him in the mouth. But Vaughan was conscious through it all.
"I kept saying this to myself, 'Don't let this guy take away the thing you love doing the most.' Police work. You know, if I didn't need the money I'd have done it for free," he says.
'I Couldn't Do Anything'
Most days, you'll find Vaughan playing dominoes at his parent's house in the Houston suburbs.
"Playing dominoes is good for me mentally, too, it keeps my mind sharp," Vaughan says.
Vaughan's father Eugene says doctors never expected his son to survive. When he did, a surgeon said he'd be severely disabled.
"He said 'We discarded about 10 percent of his total brain during the surgery and should he survive, he may not be able to talk, he will have total left-side paralysis, he may not get enough motor control to be able to swallow.' It did not sound good," Eugene Vaughan says.
Danny Vaughan was shot pointblank in the head several times while on duty as a Houston police officer. Like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, he spent time at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research.
Danny Vaughan was shot pointblank in the head several times while on duty as a Houston police officer. Like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, he spent time at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research. KHOU
Danny Vaughn remembers that when he first woke up, he couldn't even swallow his own saliva. "I couldn't do anything. I was like a brand new newborn baby. They'd sit me up in bed, and I'd fall over," he says. "My muscles were so tight and drawn in that it hurt just to move them just a few inches."
In therapy, the first job was simply to unclench those muscles. Vaughan says the stretching sessions were agonizing, the most painful part of the day.
He thinks about Giffords feeling the same pain.
"She's going to be hurting in places she never knew she even had," he says.
He says therapists will challenge Giffords from the moment she wakes up until she falls asleep.
"They come in, they put the bowl of Cheerios on your plate on your table. They put the milk on there and the banana and the knife. And it's up to you to cut that banana up and put it into that cereal bowl. And it's up to you to open that box of milk and pour it into your cereal. And it's up to you to eat and they'll come clean it up later," Vaughan says.
Quality Of Life After Brain Injury
Six months after being shot, Vaughan left the same building where Giffords is now. Cameras swarmed around him as he shuffled out the door, propped between his parents. He was blind in one eye, partially deaf and weak on his left side. Those disabilities were permanent. To this day, Vaughan still walks with a cane, although he did learn to drive again.
But Vaughan had become a huge hero — a public servant, like Giffords, who had come so close to death. There were news reports about him going back to work at the Houston Police Department, throwing out the first pitch at an Astros games and marrying his long-time girlfriend.
"I have a traumatic brain injury. They call it TBI, traumatic brain injury. And I have a quality of life now far better than I had before the injury. So there is a quality of life after brain injury, and Gabby's going to have it too, I have no doubt," Vaughan says.
But Vaughan says quality of life is not the same thing as a complete restoration of ability.
"She'll have something wrong with her, I'm sure something. You don't go through a brain injury and not come out with some kind of overlapping shortness from somewhere," he says.
Vaughan now owns and manages 18 rental houses. He is also a scuba diver and a licensed charter boat captain. But most days he ends up back here at his parent's house for another round of dominoes
The game, like his recovery, depends on skill, and also a bit of luck.