Rep. Gabby Giffords Makes Progress In Recovery

Doctors have given the green light for wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to travel to Florida for Friday's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. Congresswoman Giffords' husband, Captain Mark Kelly, is the astronaut who will be leading the Endeavour's last flight into space. Giffords has been recuperating from a wound she received, in January, when a gunman opened fire at a constituent meeting the congresswoman was holding outside of a Tucson supermarket. Six victims died and several, including the congresswoman, were wounded. NPR's Ted Robbins joins Host Michel Martin to talk about the Congresswoman's rehabilitation and speculations around her political future.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we'll talk about the brutal attack on a transgender person in a McDonald's outside of Baltimore, Maryland. A video of the beating has been watched by hundreds of thousands of people. But it's also sparking a broader discussion around why transgender people are so often subjected to violence and what can be done about it. We'll have that conversation in a few minutes.

But first, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida is gearing up for tomorrow's launch of the space shuttle Endeavor. President Barack Obama and his family are expected to attend the launch - the next to the last shuttle mission. Also expected is Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in that January attack on her town hall meeting.

Her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, is the shuttle commander. And, yesterday, Captain Kelly said his wife is eager to see him blast into space on Friday.

Captain MARK KELLY (Commander, Endeavor): It's something she's been looking forward to for a long time. She's been working really hard to make sure that her doctors would permit her to come. And she's, you know, more than medically ready to be here. And she's excited about making this trip.

MARTIN: We wanted to know more about how Congresswoman Giffords is doing after that brutal attack in January when a gunman shot her at point blank range. Six victims died and several other people were wounded. So we've called NPR's Ted Robbins. He covers the southwest for NPR and he joins us now from Tucson. Welcome, thanks for joining us.

TED ROBBINS: Hi, Michel. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Now, you heard Captain Kelly say that her doctors say that she's medically ready to be there. And she's excited about making the trip. How would they know? What markers of recovery is she exhibiting?

ROBBINS: Well, I, you know, a strong will to want to go - repeatedly asked her if she wanted to go and from what I hear from everybody who's visited her, she's tired of being in a hospital room. So that's a good sign. It's a good test of her rehab, to see how it's working. She's doing speech therapy, occupational therapy, which is with one's hands - fine motor skills and physical therapy. And she's doing a very, very, very rigorous schedule, you know, for hours and hours each day.

She's starting, so she's, you know, she's starting to show limited ability to communicate verbally, but she has repeatedly said she wanted to go and see him. This isn't the first time she's seen her husband take off in the space shuttle. So medically ready, I think, is - it's more a matter of, from what I can understand, is there any reason she couldn't go? And apparently there isn't.

MARTIN: And we also hear that she's starting to walk on her own. Even though, apparently she was right-handed but is now writing left-handed.

ROBBINS: Yeah. And let me back up and say she is traveling on a private jet and she's wearing a custom-fitted helmet to protect her skull. So, it's, you know, I'm told there's absolutely no problem with the pressurization in the plane and, you know, she'll have nurses around her. So if need be, she'll be in a wheelchair so she can't fall.

Yeah, the bullet went in just - as people can sort of picture this - this bullet went in above her eye, kind of high up on her forehead on the left side of her brain. And then it exited also high up. So it damaged areas in her brain, speech areas, things like that. And as most - many people know, the opposite side of the body is affected. So her - she was right-handed and so the bullet went in on the left side and it damaged - she has physical weakness on the right side. So she's learning how to write with her left hand, apparently.

But the good news that everybody - and I talk with people who visit her, you know, at least a couple of times a week, and various people. And they say her personality, which would've been affected more had the bullet gone in on the other side, is - seems completely intact. It's not a matter of comprehension, it's a matter of communication.

MARTIN: Well, and just one thing I wanted to point out is that her congressional office issued a statement saying that NASA is arranging her transportation, as it does for all astronaut's spouses to attend a launch. So, if people are curious about that... But to that point, we only have about a minute left, and it's a delicate question, Ted, but I think some might wonder, how are her congressional duties being addressed at this time?

ROBBINS: Well, you know, constituent services are going on. She has three offices in D.C. and in Tucson and in Sierra Vista, Arizona. She can't vote, obviously. She can't introduce legislation. But a Republican colleague - she's a Democrat - introduced a border communications and security bill on her behalf, at the request of her staff, Ted Poe of Texas. This was a couple weeks ago.

So they're getting stuff done and she's raised a lot of money for re-election even though she has not said she wanted to - she has not yet indicated, but her friends have raised money for her just in case. And congressional candidates routinely re-file so that they can raise money as soon as they're elected, they re-file for re-election.

MARTIN: And typically, and finally, we only have 30 seconds left, but has any potential opponent or other candidate for that seat emerged?

ROBBINS: No. Well, her previous opponent also likewise filed afterwards, but he said nothing and nobody has. Likewise, the possible bid for Senator Jon Kyl's seat, he's retiring. You know, I have to say, Michel, that frankly, I think all that speculation is coming from media pundits. I think that's - I think, you know, all the political talk, it's as you know, totally favored - the favored topic of conversation in D.C.

MARTIN: OK.

ROBBINS: And I think that's what's fanning it. The rest is rumors.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Ted Robbins covers the southwest for NPR. He joined us, this morning, from Tucson. Ted, thanks so much for joining us.

ROBBINS: Oh, my pleasure.

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