In Houston, Doctors Provide Update On Rep. Giffords
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Houston today, doctors gave an update on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She underwent surgery yesterday to rebuild her skull. She was shot in January outside a Tucson supermarket. Today, her medical team said Giffords is recovering well. The update also offered a glimpse into the congresswoman's daily life inside the Houston rehabilitation hospital.
As Carrie Feibel of member station KUHF reports, Giffords' experience is like that of many long-term rehab patients. She jokes, complains and spends long hours working her muscles and her mind.
CARRIE FEIBEL: Doctors had planned this surgery for a while. The bullet left a hole in Giffords' skull, and doctors removed another section to relieve pressure. But they couldn't reuse the section because it was fragmented and contaminated. Instead, the surgeons implanted a synthetic piece that was custom fit to cover the hole. With that in place, Giffords can now cast aside her protective helmet.
Pia Carusone is her chief of staff.
Ms. PIA CARUSONE (Chief of Staff for Representative Gabrielle Giffords): She's excited. It marks a major milestone for her. So she hates the helmet. She tells us about it every day. Someone wrote 5/17/11 on the top of the helmet as the final date, like that's it, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CARUSONE: So she was - it was an exciting week for her, and she's been, you know, looking forward to this for a while.
FEIBEL: During the surgery, doctors also implanted a small plastic tube called a shunt. It will drain fluid from around Giffords' brain into her abdomen. The release of pressure on the brain could also help Giffords do even better in therapy.
Dr. Dong Kim says that despite Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, being in space, this was the right time to do the surgery.
Dr. DONG KIM (Director, Mischer Neuroscience Institute, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital): It's only been about four months, and really for a patient to come this far as she has in that period of time after the kind of injury she had is almost miraculous. I mean, she has made tremendous progress.
FEIBEL: But he refused to predict when exactly Giffords would leave the hospital or even if she might ever return to public service.
Dr. KIM: The rate of recovery, though, is variable over time, and we can't predict exactly how much more progress she's going to make going forward. So it would be very hard to say if and when she can return to work, but she has done very well so far, and we hope that that progress continues.
FEIBEL: Rehabilitation specialist Dr. Gerard Francisco describes the patient who, for the most part, is lively and determined.
Dr. GERARD FRANCISCO (Chief Medical Officer, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital): We're having more meaningful and fun conversation. She's cracked me up several times. She's made some jokes. So we've had very good social conversations as well.
FEIBEL: Francisco says that like many patients, Giffords sometimes complains about how difficult therapy is, but when he tells her why a particular exercise is necessary, she buckles down and does it.
Carusone says her boss is also homesick. Staff members read aloud to Giffords, and the congresswoman still follows national politics.
Ms. CARUSONE: You know, we read her news articles. The Arizona Daily Star mails a copy of the paper to her every day, so it's a day old that she gets to see her local newspaper. You know, so we read her articles from that or other papers and, you know, update her on what's going on. You know, Trump's not running for president or, you know, whatever the news is.
FEIBEL: Dr. Kim says the chance of infection from this type of surgery is about 5 or 10 percent. He says Giffords will remain at Memorial Hermann Hospital through next week and then will return to the rehabilitation institute nearby.
For NPR News, I'm Carrie Feibel in Houston.
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