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Congresswoman Giffords Continues to Show Dramatic Signs of Recovery

A poster outside of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords office in Tucson, Ariz., wishes her well, Jan 16, 2011
A poster outside of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords office in Tucson, Ariz., wishes her well, Jan 16, 2011
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Greg Flakus

Doctors at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona say US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continues to show dramatic signs of recovery from the gunshot wound to the head she suffered on January 8.

Her condition has been upgraded from critical to serious. Six other people died and 12 others were wounded in the shooting incident at a Tucson shopping center.

Doctors treating Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continue to be impressed with the progress she is making, just a little over a week after having a 9mm bullet travel through the left side of her brain.

Over the weekend, surgeons treated a fracture to her right eye socket that resulted from the shooting trauma. They say that procedure went well, but it is too soon to say if she will regain normal sight as she heals.

But Chief neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole says he is impressed by Giffords' ability to sustain these operations and continue her recovery. "Within a few hours of the surgery she was waking up and through the weekend she came back to the same baseline she had before the surgery, that same level of interaction she has been having with us. That is all very good and, at this time, we are hoping to continue to tie up those loose ends and get her ready for that third phase of her care, the rehabilitation," he said.

Since the emergency surgery to save her life, doctors have been able to communicate with Giffords and she has been able to respond to their commands, lifting her arms and legs and giving a thumbs up sign in response to questions. She is unable to speak because of a feeding tube in her throat.

In an interview with the ABC Television network, Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said she had given him a neck massage over the weekend.

Dr. Lemole says such actions are promising signs of recovery.

"It does imply that she is recognizing him and that she is reacting perhaps in an old familiar way with him," he said. "All those higher, cognitive levels of function are at least somehow, somewhat preserved here."

Only around ten percent of people suffering gunshot wounds to the head survive and most of them have disabilities resulting from the damage to their brains. There have been some rare cases, however, in which victims go on to live normal lives with few lasting effects.

In other developments related to the shooting, police arrested one of the victims of the January 8 shooting, James Eric Fuller, on Saturday, after he threatened people at a televised townhall meeting. The self-described liberal who suffered wounds to his back and leg, blamed conservative politicians for inciting the gunman with their rhetoric.

Meantime, more information is coming forth about the alleged gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner. Former friends, teachers and employers are describing a man whose mental state apparently deteriorated over the past few years. They say he was a frequent player of video games and that he used marijuana and other drugs.

He also expressed hatred for former U.S. President George W. Bush and other government figures, although those who knew him say he was not involved in politics and did not appear interested in current affairs.

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