Six days after being shot through the brain, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was still on a ventilator but making "encouraging" progress and continuing to open her unbandaged eye, her doctors said Friday morning.
Of the 11 patients taken to Tucson's University Medical Center following Saturday's shooting rampage at a northwest-side supermarket, four remain hospitalized and all but Giffords are in good condition. Giffords is still in critical condition.
"We're actually confident that she's making some progress now," UMC neurosurgeon G. Michael Lemole Jr. told reporters. "So we're very encouraged that she's continuing to make all the right moves in all the right directions. Obviously we're very cautious that she makes them at her own pace. But we couldn't have hoped for any better improvement than we're seeing now given the severity of her injury initially."
Giffords had dramatic progress this week when she opened her right eye for the first time on the day of President Obama's visit. Her left eye is bandaged, say colleagues who visited with her.
She also has been able to move her arms and legs, though the movement in her right arm is limited, doctors said.
The left side of the brain typically controls right-sided strength, sensation and speech, including the ability to understand simple commands, and she was wounded on that side.
Now that doctors have cut back her sedation, Lemole said Giffords is making more frequent, spontaneous movements like opening her unbandaged eye. She is completing "more complex sequences of activity in response to our commands," he said. Lemole declined to answer any questions Friday about Giffords' condition.
After last Saturday's shooting, doctors removed a portion of Giffords' skull to give her swelling brain room to expand without being constricted by bone. They expect to leave that portion of the skull off for a month or two.
Doctors have refused to give Giffords a prognosis of recovery, though they have said she will not die from the bullet that traveled clear through the left side of her brain. They have said her recovery is remarkable, and rare.
Giffords' district director, Ron Barber, was released from UMC Friday morning in time to attend the funeral of his longtime friend, U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, his daughters Crissi Blake and Jenny Douglas said. Roll was one of six people who died.
Barber has been able to take some small steps with a walker. He was standing next to Giffords when the shots rang out. He was shot in the face and leg.
Douglas read a statement from her father thanking staff members at UMC and the community for their support and solace to the victims' families.
He also said he believes bystander Anna Ballis saved his life at the scene of the shootings by applying pressure to his wounds until paramedics arrived.
"We are extremely fortunate to have such an outstanding medical facility in our community," Barber's statement said. "And now the whole world knows about the high level of expertise and professionalism that is found here."
Barber also said he was extremely moved by the tributes, candles and photographs that are part of a shrine growing in front of the hospital.
The remaining patients are "doing extremely well, they are progressing forward, nothing is unexpected at this time," Dr. Peter Rhee, head trauma surgeon at UMC, said. "Everyone seems to be making progress in healing."