Rep. Giffords Recovery Milestone: Shuttle Launch

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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will be in Florida Friday to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavor. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, is commanding the mission. Giffords hasn't spoken publicly since Jan. 8 when a gunman shot her in the head at a constituent event. Jaimee Rose, of The Arizona Republic, tells Steve Inskeep why doctors think a trip away from the Houston rehabilitation center is good for her recovery.


Near record crowds are expected in Florida on Friday to witness the final liftoff of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will be there. Her husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, is commanding the mission. Giffords has not spoken publicly since January 8th, when a gunman shot her in the head at a meet-and-greet for constituents. Her doctors tell reporter Jaimee Rose the trip from a rehabilitation center in Houston to Cape Canaveral in Florida is a milestone.

Ms. JAIMEE ROSE (Reporter, The Arizona Republic): She will experience new movements. They will be able to test her out in her real world. And, you know, for Congresswoman Giffords her real world happens to include a space center and astronauts and going to a launch.

INSKEEP: Jaimee Rose of The Arizona Republic spent several days speaking with people closest to the congresswoman - her husband, doctors, her nurse, her chief of staff. She wrote an article in this week's Arizona Republic saying that Giffords walks with a grocery cart as she works to improve her gait and she writes now with her left hand instead of her right.

Ms. ROSE: She used to be right handed. Now she's left handed. And that's because the bullet went through the left side of her brain, which commonly affects movement on the right side of the body. And doctors use every kind of physical therapy possible to try to promote new movement on the right side. And they try to keep it interesting and try to keep it fresh.

INSKEEP: I suppose the thing that's more urgent to deal with is being able to speak, to communicate.

Ms. ROSE: Yes. Her doctors told me that she speaks most often in simple, declarative sentences like love you or bye-bye, because for her the challenge lies in pulling the words out her brain. She knows what she wants to say, they said, but it's like trying to remember a face at the grocery store and a name that goes with that face. That's the experience she's having in trying to put together long sentences.

INSKEEP: Now, you didn't see her. But based on the descriptions of people that you spoke with, how's she look?

Ms. ROSE: Her chief of staff told me that she looks good. She said that her hair is now two inches long. Of course they had to shave it for surgery. There's a thin scar over the top of her forehead which is healing. There's a scar at her throat from where the tracheostomy was placed. But she looks, her chief of staff told me, as she did before.

INSKEEP: Do they want to arrange this so that she is out of public eye for this entire trip?

Ms. ROSE: Yes. Her staff and her husband really would like Gabrielle to be able to decide when a photo of her is released and what it looks like. But families of NASA astronauts are always kept from the public eye during the launch in case of a public tragedy like the Challenger.

INSKEEP: You talked to a number of people around Gabrielle Giffords to get a picture of her. Everyone agreed to talk, including her nurse. And you've informed us that the nurse was nervous.

Ms. ROSE: Yes. She was telling Gabby how she was feeling about doing this interview. And Gabby told her practice, practice. And then she told her she was smart, the nurse said. And Gabby repeated smart, smart.

INSKEEP: So Gabrielle Giffords gave her a little advice, a little confidence then?

Ms. ROSE: She did. She shared some of her knowledge from years talking in front of people with her nurse.

INSKEEP: And I wonder if the congresswoman is thinking about when the occasion will comet that she herself will be back before the public again and speaking again in public.

Ms. ROSE: We all wonder that. Her chief of staff told me that there are some days the Gabrielle doesn't think she's going to get better ever. But her husband said there are days she knows she can do it. There are days she knows that she's going to walk and she's going to walk out of rehab.

And in the weeks to come her chief of staff told me they plan to print out simple House resolutions and bring them to her to read, which will help her reading comprehension.

INSKEEP: Jaimee Rose of The Arizona Republic.

Thanks very much.

Ms. ROSE: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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