Eye socket fixed; rehabilitation is next

2011-01-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-30T17:24:14Z Eye socket fixed; rehabilitation is nextStephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 18, 2011 12:00 am  • 

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is blinking, focusing her eyes on her husband, and has smiled at him, doctors said Monday.

While her prognosis remains unclear, doctors at University Medical Center say the Tucson congresswoman continues to make a "miraculous" recovery after being shot in the head on Jan. 8.

Giffords, 40, was shot clear through the left side of her brain as she held a meet-and-greet with constituents at a northwest-side supermarket. She is one of three patients from the mass shooting there that day who remain hospitalized at UMC. On Sunday, the hospital upgraded Giffords' condition from critical to serious. Two patients are in good condition.

A total of 11 patients were taken to UMC after the rampage.

Giffords underwent surgery Saturday to repair a fracture in her right eye socket that was causing bulging and pressure.

While the bullet went through the left side of her brain, it also sent shock waves throughout her brain, and part of the skull around her right eye was damaged, said UMC oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Lynn Polonski.

The procedure involved reconstructing Giffords' right eye socket with metal mesh.

Polonski said both of Giffords' eyes are now unbandaged. She's blinking and focusing both on her husband and following his movements with them - a good sign, Polonski said.

Both of her eyes are intact, and she is visually interacting with her husband, Polonski said. Doctors don't know whether she's suffered permanent vision problems.

"She's having some difficulty with the right eye because of swelling, which is very typical after that kind of trauma and also after reconstructive surgery," Polonski said.

Trauma surgeon Dr. Randall Friese said Giffords' husband, astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, has reported seeing his wife smile.

Kelly told Diane Sawyer of ABC News that Giffords gave him a 10-minute neck massage. The full interview will air on a special edition of "20/20" tonight.

On Saturday, the breathing tube was removed from Giffords' face and replaced with a tracheal tube through her windpipe.

"Usually, tracheostomies stay until we're certain the patient's swallowing mechanism is safe," Friese said. "It can actually be changed out to a smaller-sized tube for her comfort.

"We can change it to a tube where she can actually get air past her vocal cords so that she can vocalize with a tracheostomy in place, if need be," he explained. "It's hard to predict how long that will stay. . . .

"It all depends, as her level of alertness continues to improve and her ability to follow commands continues to improve."

The tracheal tube in her throat prevents her from speaking, and doctors declined to speculate about how her voice might be affected after it is removed.

The next step for Giffords will be transitioning to physical rehabilitation, doctors said.

Friese and neurosurgeon Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr. would not say how much movement Giffords has on her right side.

The left side of the brain typically controls right-side strength, sensation and speech, including the ability to understand simple commands.

"At this time, we're hoping to continue tying up those loose ends and get her ready for that third phase of her care - the rehabilitation," Lemole said. "The family is looking at all their resources.

"They have the entire country available. It has to be in a place that is not only top-notch in terms of the ability to render care and rehabilitation, but also proximity to family is very important."

Giffords already has been working with a team of therapists at her bedside.

Lemole said she could be released from the hospital anywhere from "days to weeks" from now.

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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