Gabrielle Giffords’ Extraordinary Journey
On January 21, 2011, United States Representative Gabrielle Giffords was transferred from the University of Arizona Medical Center to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center’s Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit. The Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head at pointblank range on Jan. 8 when an assailant opened fire outside a grocery store in Tucson, killing six people and wounding 12 others. She arrived at the hospital in critical condition, and a portion of her skull was removed to relieve brain swelling.
Rep. Giffords’ physician team upgraded her condition from serious to good four days after her admission, and she was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann to begin the long journey facing those whose lives have been interrupted by illness or injury.
At the rehabilitation hospital, a multidisciplinary team of affiliated physicians, nurses and therapists who specialize in traumatic brain injury worked closely with Rep. Giffords to develop the best combination of therapies for a return to function. “Gabby was incredibly motivated from the beginning,” says chief medical officer Gerard Francisco, M.D., who was in charge of her care during her stay at the rehabilitation hospital. “We worked together like an orchestra, designing therapies that treat the whole person and expedite recovery. She and her husband Mark played key roles in that orchestra.”
Capt. Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut and Navy captain, is his wife’s biggest champion. “It was a tragic event with a huge impact on us as a family. But you keep working because you don’t want that to be the end result. The injury Gabby suffered kills 95 percent of the people who sustain it. The 5 percent who remain typically don’t recover very well, but she’s done remarkably well. Her continuous improvement motivates her to go further and do more. Carl Josehart and his team really went out of their way to do everything they possibly could to make our experience at TIRR Memorial Hermann as positive and productive as possible.”
On June 8, she celebrated another milestone – her 41st birthday. After her discharge from TIRR Memorial Hermann in mid-July 2011, she began a program of intensive physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Adult Outpatient Rehabilitation. Gabby participated daily in active therapy sessions and was a role model for other participants in therapy.
Kris Conley, C.C.C.-S.L.P., speech language pathologist, worked with Rep. Giffords until her discharge from TIRR Memorial Hermann Adult Outpatient Rehabilitation in June 2012. “She’s got heart. She’s focused. She’s amazing. She is indefatigable and just absolutely determined to do everything she possibly can to return,” Conley says. “She’s one of those people you meet in life who just touches everyone. There’s something very, very special about her. I can understand why she’s been called the most positive member of Congress. She was a joy to work with.”
“A brain injury like hers is a kind of hurricane, blowing away some words and phrases and leaving others almost within reach, but buried deep,” says Capt. Kelly in their book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, written by the couple with the help of writer Jeffrey Zaslow. “Our main goal for now is continued hard work and continued progress,” he says. His wife remains confident. “I will get stronger,” she says.
“I will return.” Giffords returned to Arizona and as she continues therapy, she has brought awareness to the field of rehabilitation.