"I knew I couldn't leave the hospital without seeing (U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords)," says Pam Simon, being pushed by her son, Fritz. Her husband, Bruce, and daughter, Summer, also accompanied Simon to Giffords' Tucson office Friday. DAVID SANDERS / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Pamela Simon's is thankful for a fraction of an inch.

That seemingly small distance could have meant life and death for the congressional staffer injured in Saturday's shooting.

She's grateful to be alive. For Simon, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and district director Ron Barber, "if the bullets had been a quarter of an inch one way or another, the outcomes would have been different," she said Friday.

Simon is one of 13 wounded in the shooting that left six others dead outside a northwest-side Safeway. Released from the hospital Thursday, she spoke about her experience Friday.

Simon said she knows "it's nothing short of a miracle" that she's left with pain, bruising and a bullet in her hip, but nothing worse.

She also thinks about those who weren't spared, the six who lost their lives when a gunman opened fire at one of Giffords' popular "Congress on Your Corner" events.

Though she was shot twice, once in the chest - with the bullet traveling to her hip - and once in the right wrist, Simon said psychologically she's doing "pretty well given the circumstances." That's because she has the support of her family, her faith community, friends and Giffords' congressional and campaign family.

She kept a sense of humor about the bullet that remains in her hip, after it went through her abdomen and stopped in her hamstring.

"That bullet's going to be my internal souvenir," she said.

The doctors are leaving the bullet there because it won't cause any trouble, and removal surgery could be more risky, she said.

"It traveled all that way and didn't hit anything significant," she said.

Simon used to teach at the same middle school and high school that suspected shooter Jared Lee Loughner attended.

She never met him, though, saying, "We walked the same halls for four years."

"If there is an issue that I want to focus on more out of this, it's the issue of helping educators and others to identify the young people who are isolated and are suffering from mental health issues," said Simon, a community outreach aide.

She talked about that issue with Dr. Richard Carmona and President Obama, both of whom visited her in the hospital.

Last Saturday, "everything happened very quickly. I was one of the first people hit after Gabby and Ron. I saw them shot, I was aware that I was hit and I went down on the ground."

But stranger Bob Pagano made "all the difference" when he stayed with her after she was shot, Simon said. The two met more formally for the first time Friday.

Pagano said he ran out of the grocery store after he heard the shots. That's when he saw Simon holding her chest, lying face-down in front of the Safeway, about 15 feet from Giffords, who was being helped by intern Daniel Hernandez. Pagano put his sweater under Simon's head.

"I tried to comfort and care for her and be there for her," he said. "I don't have emergency training, so that's all I could offer her. ... Everybody who was there, in this area that morning was doing everything in their power to help."

He said Simon told him she'd been shot in the chest, hip and wrist and that she was in pain.

"She was very strong. She was telling me what to do. I was telling her she was going to be fine," Pagano said. "She was uncomfortable but entirely coherent."

Simon said she saw Giffords before she left the hospital. She held the congresswoman's hand and received a squeeze in return.

"I knew that I could not leave the hospital without seeing her," Simon said. "It was very important to my healing."

Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at akelly@azstarnet.com or 807-7790. Reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this report.