Giffords' status unchanged, a favorable sign

2011-01-11T00:00:00Z 2011-01-11T13:31:16Z Giffords' status unchanged, a favorable signStephanie Innes and Rhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

There was no change in Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' condition overnight Sunday, which doctors say is a good sign.

She is still responding to simple commands and gave doctors a thumbs-up with her left hand, said Dr. Peter Rhee, medical director of the trauma center at University Medical Center, where Giffords remains in critical condition in the intensive-care unit.

The 40-year-old congresswoman will continue to use a breathing tube until the fear of brain swelling is gone. Doctors would not say whether Giffords will be able to speak once the ventilator is out.

Two nationally-known specialists were expected to arrive in Tucson to consult on Giffords' care Monday:

• Neurointensivist Dr. Geoffrey Ling, a colonel who works with a U.S. Defense Department agency. Ling specializes in brain trauma.

• Dr. James Ecklund, who is chairman of the department of neurosciences at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Ling and Ecklund will be assessing Giffords and then meeting with her family, Rhee said.

Giffords' staff member Ron Barber is also in intensive care recovering from gunshot wounds to a leg and to the face and neck area, Rhee said. Barber, who is in serious condition, underwent six hours of surgery Saturday and is expected to have another surgery this week.

A total of eight people injured in the shooting rampage Saturday remain hospitalized at UMC, including Giffords, who was shot through the left side of her brain. Doctors say the bullet exited through the front of her head, just above the eye socket. They say it's too early to assess whether her vision has been affected.

The trajectory of the bullet was such that it stayed only in the left hemisphere and did not cross through the brain's geometric center.

The left side of the brain typically controls right-sided strength, sensation and speech, including the ability to understand simple commands - that's why doctors are so encouraged that the congresswoman is able to understand simple commands, such as wiggling toes, hand squeezes and showing fingers.

The shooting occurred as Giffords and her staff met with constituents.

Five people are listed in serious condition and two more are listed in fair condition with a variety of gunshot wounds.

"We had 10 patients with probably 30, 40 holes in them. So we had a lot of injuries to account for," Rhee said.

Giffords is the only patient in critical condition.

"At this phase in the game, no change is good, and we have no change," neurosurgeon Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr. said about Giffords' medical status during a news conference at the hospital Monday morning. "The CAT scans are showing that there is no progression of that swelling. We're not out of the woods yet. But every day that goes by and we don't see an increase, we're slightly more optimistic."

Giffords spent slightly more than two hours in surgery Saturday. Doctors removed half her skull to relieve pressure caused by swelling. That portion of her skull will remain off for a month or longer to allow healing, and then doctors will reimplant it.

"Swelling typically peaks around the third day. I've seen it go out to as far as 10 days. But most often in the third day. That's why we're much, much more optimistic, and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief after about the third or fourth day. We're getting close," Lemole said.

Rhee said doctors are also are focused on dealing with post-traumatic stress issues as well as depression, noting that there are patients recovering who are also facing the loss of loved ones who died in the shooting. He said some of the patients face additional surgeries. Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers are helping.

Both Rhee and Lemole praised the response of the Tucson community.

"We all know we can't undo the events that have occurred. However, the city of Tucson has obviously been very heavily affected, and I'm very proud to be a citizen of Tucson as we see the amount of care and thoughts that have come forward. It's been tremendous," Rhee said. "The community I think is pulling through this very well. There's been tremendous amounts of offerings and a lot of food being brought to the hospital ... those types of activities are very well appreciated."

The hospital plans to hold another news conference today.

Fund established

The Community Food Bank in Tucson has established a fund for anyone wishing to honor Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Donations to The Gabrielle Giffords Hunger Fund can be made at:

www.communityfoodbank.org or by calling 622-0525.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@azstarnet.com or 573-4134.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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