Giffords could leave hospital 'in a matter of days'
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Giffords could leave hospital 'in a matter of days'

Blinked and smiled at husband, docs say

The "miraculous" recovery of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords continues, her doctors said Monday morning.

Giffords could be discharged "in a matter of days or weeks," said Dr. G. Michael Lemole, a neurosurgeon who has been treating the congresswoman since she was shot in the head Jan. 8.

Following surgery to repair a fracture in her right eye over the weekend, Giffords' eyes are unbandaged and she is blinking, said University Medical Center trauma surgeon Dr. Randall Friese.

Her husband, Mark Kelly, reportedly told Diane Sawyer of ABC News that Giffords gave him a neck rub at one point during the weekend.

"She's in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage," Kelly said in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer set to air Tuesday.

"It's so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she's looking out for other people," Kelly said.

Kelly told Friese that his wife has shown some facial expressions.

"Her husband told me that she's smiling," Friese said.

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"We all want to see the best. Sometimes we see what we want to see, but if he said she is smiling, I buy it," Friese said. 

Giffords underwent surgery on Saturday to relieve pressure on the right eye caused by bone fragments pushing down on it, said Lemole.

There is a small fracture in her left eye socket as well, but doctors have decided not to treat that injury at this time, he said.

An incision was made just above Giffords' eyebrow, and a metal mesh was used to repair the damage, the doctors said.

Giffords has returned to the same baseline condition following the surgery, Lemole said. She was upgraded from critical to serious condition over the weekend, doctors said.

"We're continuing to tie up loose ends" like the eye surgery, he said.

Overall, doctors are pleased with Giffords' condition, and Lemole agreed that her recovery has been miraculous.

"That word holds up very well," he said.

While Giffords has been able to track movement with both eyes for several days, doctors are as yet unable to determine how well she can see, Lemole said.

"That will take a detailed opthamologic exam," Lemole said.

Both of her eyes are unbandaged, she's blinking and able to focus on her husband and follow movement, said UMC oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Lynn Polonski.

"Our suspicion is that she can see something," said Lemole. It is too early to know for sure whether she is able to see out of both eyes, he said.

Because a tube was inserted into her neck during a tracheotomy Saturday, Giffords remains unable to speak.

The tube "does not allow her to get air past her vocal chords," said Friese.

The tracheotomy was done to "replace the breathing tube that ran down her throat with a tracheotomy tube in her windpipe, protecting her airway and freeing her from the ventilator," UMC spokesman Michael Griffith said Saturday.

Giffords is now breathing on her own, doctors said.

A program of physical therapy doctors described last week as "intense" continues, they said.

"She is working regularly with therapists at the bedside," Friese said at Monday's briefing.

Currently the breathing tube that is in Giffords' throat does not allow her to speak, but in time it can be replaced by a smaller one that will allow her to vocalize, Friese said.

Lemole wouldn't elaborate on the extent of movement Giffords can perform on both sides of her body.

Describing himself as "real cagey," he said, "The family doesn't want to go into it at this time."

While Giffords could be discharged from UMC soon, she faces a lengthy period of rehabilitation, Lemole said.

Her family is looking at facilities across the country, but proximity for her family is an important concern, he said.

Repairs to Giffords' skull, a portion of which was removed and stored away to forestall dangerous brain swelling, are many months away, Lemole said.

The other two patients who remain at UMC following the shooting are in good condition and could be released within days to rehabilitation centers, the doctors said.

Giffords was shot clear through the left side of her brain the morning of Jan. 8, doctors said.

Six died in the attack, and 13 others, including Giffords, were shot, authorities said.

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Jared Lee Loughner, 22, faces five federal counts in the shooting, which targeted Giffords as she held a "Congress On Your Corner" meet and greet with constituents at a Northwest Side grocery store, authorities said.

Loughner, who was asked to leave Pima Community College after his behavior became increasingly erratic, has been described by authorities as mentally unstable.

Kelly said he would be willing to meet with Loughner's parents. They have remained in seclusion since the shooting, releasing a short written statement Tuesday that expressed sorrow over the incident.

"I don't think it's their fault. It's not the parents fault," Kelly told ABC.

"You know, I'd like to think I'm a person that's, you know, somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they've got to be hurting in this situation as much as anybody," Kelly said.

Angela Mullis contributed to this report.


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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Giffords' doctors discuss her condition at a briefing Monday morning.