Rabbi Aaron

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords sang the folk-rock song "American Pie" over the weekend - and knew all the words, her rabbi says.

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim, which Giffords attends, visited the congresswoman in Houston and plans another visit soon. She said one of her friends, a rabbi in Houston, is also visiting with Giffords regularly.

Giffords, 40, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, where her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, lives. She was one of 19 people shot Jan. 8 at a northwest-side supermarket as she held a meet-and-greet event. Six people died.

"I sang a prayer with her," Aaron said. "She also sang 'American Pie' and she knew all the words. She was singing it with Mark and Mark's daughters, who noticed that she knew the words better than they did."

Giffords was shot in the left forehead and the bullet went clear through the left side of the brain, which typically controls right-side strength, sensation and speech.

Giffords' medical team has been encouraging her to mouth the words to songs as part of an exercise known to rebuild the brain.

During her visit to Houston, Aaron said Giffords overheard the rabbi talking about going to get matzo-ball soup for her. And when Aaron returned from the deli, Giffords looked at her and said, "Soup?"

"She's determined," Aaron said. "She's being her brilliant, amazing self."

Aaron brought a large poster-board card from students at Emily Gray Junior High School, where Giffords was once a student.

The card included a picture of Emily Gray students standing with Giffords and her husband. When she saw the picture, Giffords touched the part of the picture that showed her with Kelly.

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The students had also put an Emily Gray T-shirt inside the card. Giffords reached out, grasped it and held it close to her heart, Aaron said.

"She's really trying," Aaron said. "And Mark is with her every minute."

Traumatic brain injuries can affect a person's ability to concentrate and remember, as well as cause problems with balance and coordination. Many survivors are severely disabled.

Experts have said it's a good sign that Giffords is talking, but that she still has a long, difficult road to recovery.

The first reports of Giffords speaking came last week, when a staff member confirmed the congresswoman asked for toast with her breakfast. There have also been reports of her mouthing the words to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," as friends sang along.

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