Rep. Giffords continues remarkable recovery

PHOENIX — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an eloquent speaker before she was shot in the head last month, is relearning the skill — progressing from mouthing words and lip syncing songs to talking briefly by telephone to her brother-in-law in space.

icon-interactive.jpg Interactive: Recovering brain

With a group of friends and family members acting as a backup chorus, Gifford has been mouthing the lyrics to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby." And as a surprise for her husband, who is celebrating his birthday this month, a longtime friend who has been helping her through her rehabilitation videotaped her mouthing the words to "Happy Birthday to You."

''It's not like she's speaking the way she spoke, but she is vocalizing and making progress every day," Pia Carusone, the congresswoman's chief of staff, said in a telephone interview on Sunday. "She's working very hard. She's determined. It's a tight schedule. A copy of it is hanging on her door."

Outside specialists say it remains unclear, despite the hopeful early signs, what functions in Gifford's mind were affected by the traumatic injuries she suffered when she was shot at point-blank range on Jan. 8 at a constituent event in Tucson.


With the help of therapists at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, the congresswoman known for her active, outdoorsy ways now labors through the halls clutching a shopping cart and does squats and repetitive motions to build her muscles, her mother, Gloria, said in an enthusiastic e-mail she sent about a week ago to friends that recounted her daughter's progress. Others who have visited Giffords recently have left similarly upbeat.

In long days that begin with breakfast at 7, Giffords, 40, has beaten one of her nurses at tic-tac-toe and transformed herself, her mother wrote, from "kind of a limp noodle" to someone who is "alert, sits up straight with good posture (in fact anyone in the room observing, unconsciously sucks it up and throws back their shoulders) and is working very hard."

Despite some obvious signs of progress for Giffords, experts offer some caution.

The human brain has what amounts to redundant circuits for some simple tasks, like walking, and it is possible for patients to make rapid progress on those skills and still have trouble with mental work and speaking, doctors said.

But those close to Giffords remain optimistic her recovery will be dramatic.

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