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Giffords' husband predicts 'full recovery,' return to shooting site

'I'd be shocked if the first thing she does is not 'Congress On Your Corner' at that Safeway'

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will recover, her husband said confidently Tuesday.

Navy Capt. Mark Kelly predicted that the congresswoman, shot in the head during an assassination attempt that killed six and wounded a dozen others, would return to the scene of the tragic shooting at a meet and greet for constituents.

"I can almost guarantee you what her first event will be," he said. "I'd be shocked if the first thing she does is not 'Congress On Your Corner' at that Safeway."

"I'll tell you this: she will make a full recovery," Kelly said. "She's going to come back strong and more committed than ever."

A fourth grader who donated his lunch money, a young woman keeping a dawn vigil outside the hospital and an anonymous veteran who left his Purple Heart with the congresswoman are among the touching stories he shared.

In her hospital bed, Giffords has rubbed his neck, touched his face and removed his wedding ring and put it on her own fingers—a familiar gesture that means she recognizes him, Kelly said.

"She's looking right in my eyes, she knows it's me. I've no doubt, I've no doubt about that," he said.

Giffords has not been told of the attacks, or that anyone died, he said.

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"I've told her where she is, and she certainly recognizes that she has a serious injury, but she doesn't know what that is," Kelly said.

He last spoke to his wife just minutes before she was shot, he said.

"She called, it must have been 30 minutes, I think 30 minutes before Pia (Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff) called me (with news of the shooting). She called me, saying, 'I'm going to Congess On Your Corner,'" he said.

"I was a bit surprised that, you know, she just got sworn in - it didn't take her long before she's going to be out there, letting everybody say what they think," he said.

Kelly, an astronaut, has been slated to command the final Space Shuttle mission in April, but hasn't made a decision whether he will helm the Endeavour. While Giffords' recovery thus far has been speedy, she faces what doctors said will be  months of rehabilitation.

"I’ve been training for this flight for a year and a half," he said. "I know it better than anybody else."

"The next day I called my boss, I said, 'Hey, we've got to come up with a plan here. I don't know if I'm going go be able to do this.'"

Kelly gave a lengthy interview to a roundtable of local journalists, including reporters from TucsonSentinel.com, Tucson Weekly, Arizona Republic, Arizona Daily Star, Northwest Explorer and Green Valley News.

Kelly answered questions for more than a half hour, meeting with reporters in a small conference room at University Medical Center.

Kelly spoke of his experience learning that his wife had been shot, dealing with her hospitalization, and his belief that she'll fully recover and return to office.

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Giffords and Kelly both worried about the danger of a gunman.

"We talked about it," he said. "She would say, you know, 'I'm somewhat concerned that at some point somebody's going to shoot me.'"

"We last talked about it 2 weeks ago."

Giffords wouldn't pull back from her public appearances, he said.

"She really thinks it's important to let people say to her, face to face, what their concerns are, and what they think about the job she's doing," he said.

"I go to a lot of those events and sometimes i get upset at how people might yell at her, and we'd get in the car and I'd complain to her about it."

"And she'd say, 'Hey, people have the right to tell me what they think.' That person is her constituent as much as the person who volunteers on her campaign."

"She'd say, well, that's part of democracy. She knows that's a part of her job."

Calls for renewed civility are a "good idea," he said.  "People should be able to disagree without getting nasty about it."

Kelly related moments of community support after the shootings that have touched him, including a 10-year-old boy who donated his lunch money to help Giffords' recovery.

Meeting a young woman holding a solitary dawn vigil at the memorial at UMC was a "spiritual" experience, Kelly said.

After the roundtable, Kelly told me about a Purple Heart that lies at his wife's bedside.

On the Saturday she was shot, an anonymous veteran dropped off his Purple Heart for her, he said.

"We don't know who he is," Kelly said.

"We keep that Purple Heart in her room with her," he said.


Where were you when you heard about the shooting?

I was home in League City, Tex. You know where I live? Near the Johnson Space Center.

And what was your reaction?

I was home, I was talking to (daughter) Claudia, about something, I don't know, maybe how many text messages she'd sent that month.

Is that what it was?

Maybe how many her sister sent - one or the other. And then Pia (Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff) called and said the (staffer) Mark Kimble had called and that Gabby'd been shot and that she doesn't have any other information.

So I hung up, I had Claudia wake up her sister, and then I just couldn't believe it.

I called Claudia, she was freaking out. then I just couldn't believe it, so I got on my phone. I had to look and say 'Yeah that's Pia and that was an incoming call.' I was in disbelief.

And then I called her back and asked her again, 'What did you say?'

At that point, I've got to call Gabby's parents, my parents then figure out how I was going to get to Tucson, quickly.

How did you get here?

A friend's airplane. A friend of mine who owns, he has a Challenger, he was able to get it gassed up and get the pilots there before I could.

I was probably, let me figure this out, i think I got here at 2:30 to the hospital, i think i landed at 2:15.

I think I took off at noon, this is Central, no, this is Tucson time. When did all this happen?

11:30 right?

Ten minutes past 10

I think I was probably airborne within about an hour, an hour and a half. If I came commercial I would not have been here until late at night.

Mark, I work with identical twins, and one of them said to me the other night, "I can't imagine being that far away" from his brother when something like this happened. Have you been able to exchange any personal messages with your brother (who is aboard the International Space Station)?

Well, he calls.

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He called today and I didn't answer. Usually, since he's been in space, very few times I won't answer the phone, but I had a meeting with on of Gabby's doctors.

He called at 8:34 and he'll call back later. You can't call up.

How's that been, do you miss having him here to hug him?

Not to hug him.

Are you not huggers?

Not with him.

What are your days like, what's your routine like? What time to you get here, what do you do when you arrive?

I've been getting here about 6:30. Typically I've been leaving - I left earlier last night - I've been leaving around nine or ten.

The first 5 days I didn't leave the hospital, I was staying in the hospital.

When I say leave, I was going up to the pediatric ICU to sleep for a little bit.

For the first 3 days, I kept track, I slept 8 hours.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday night all together was about 8 hours.

Then I realized, since I'm having to sign a lot of stuff and make some decisions with regard to her treatment, I can't do that sleep deprived, so I started making sure I get 6 hours of sleep a night since then.

What decisions have you made?

Me personally, we start by the doctors who saved her life, and are incredible and haven't made any mistakes.

You've got great neurosurgeons, Dr. Lemole and Marty Weinand, and Pete Rhee and Dr. Friese the trauma surgeons - they've done everything perfectly.

There have been a couple of times when they've debated doing one procedure or another procedure. And we've brought in some people from the outside, because I know that's what Gabby would want me to do.

She's all about the team, having a good team.

I'm sure she's going to ask me at some point, when she realizes what happened to her, were Walter Reed or Johns Hopkins involved in any of this?

So we actually had a doctor that used to be the head of neurosurgery at Walter Reed come out, and we also had a doctor from Johns Hopkins, a neurologist, that came out here.

And then for some other stuff we had a couple of doctors from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

So when I say decisions, specific medical decisions I don't want to go into, about her care.

What was your experience like, sitting in the midst of all those cheering people last Wednesday night, right after what I'm sure was an intense personal experience when she opened her eyes?

It seems like a decade ago now, doesn't it? It seems like a long time ago.

It was quite the memorial service for those six folks, wasn't it?

It think the people that spoke did a great job - the president did a great job capturing the people.
I thought he did very well. He knew who those individuals were.

I knew Gabe (Zimmerman) well, and just capturing what Gabe meant to the office and the community....

The little bit I know about Christina Green, talking to her parents, and Susie Hileman - I sat with Susie this morning for about 30 minutes and talked to her again.

I think he did a great job capturing the spirit of that little girl.

But I was also very tired, so its all a big blur.

All I know is the First Lady at one point squeezed my hand really hard.

When you do get to communicate with Gabby again, do you expect her to open her eyes and say, "Mark, what are you doing here. Don't you have things to do?"

She might. She might wonder why all these people are here.

We're trying to give her a lot of time to rest and sleep, because she needs that to recover. But she's awake a lot of the time.

When she rubs your back, when she smiles

- neck massage -

Do you feel that that's a conscious thing or reflex...?

Oh, she knows.

Oh, absolutely. When I'm sitting right there, she knows when it's me as compared to somebody else. She knows when it's her mother sitting there.

Absolutely, there's things that she would do that she only does when I'm sitting there, which is one - she'll pat my face like this, which she used to do all the time.

Or she takes my ring and starts playing with it. She'll put it on her finger, she'll flip it around to the other....

She has that much dexterity?

She'll do that, and then she'll put it back on.

Your rings, what do they say inside?

If I had my glasses....

Actually, this one, so, this is the replacement, from when I lost it, so this one isn't engraved yet.

I always have to take it off, when I go flying in a T-38, because you don't want to fall off the airplane, in this case. People can get caught and rip your finger off. Because getting up there is so hard, you just take it off. It's probably at D-M.

I'm trying to remember what it said. I'm functioning on very little sleep. I have it, in my bag in the room.

What was your last conversation with her before the shooting?

She called, it must have been 30 minutes, I think 30 minutes before Pia called me. She called me, saying, "I'm going to Congress On Your Corner."

I was a bit surprised that, you know, she just got sworn in - it didn't take her long before she's going to be out there, letting everybody say what they think, having her staff take notes.

That was very important to her, to be out there. The thing's scheduled for two hours and it might go three hourse, and she'll talk to everybody in line, make sure everybody has a chance to get their say.

I was a little surprised she was doing it so quickly, she just got sworn in - I can't remember the date of the swearing-in.

Wednesday, the 4th or 5th.

It was Wednesday, so this was the 8th, so 3 days later, she was right back at it.

Did you worry about her, when she did things like that, going out in public? Did you have a fear something like this would happen?

You bet, so did she. We talked about it.

What would you say?

She would say, you know, "I'm somewhat concerned that at some point somebody's going to shoot me."

And I would say to her, "Gabby, as far as I know, something like that hasn't happened in this country - with the exception of the Jonestown thing - in a hundred years. I don't know of a case when that's happened.

We talked about it probably at least a dozen times.

We last talked about it 2 weeks ago.

When did you start talking, when did that concern start...?

About 2 years ago.

After the election?

When everything got really heated.

After Obama was elected and sworn in?

I think so. It's hard for me to remember exactly when.

So we discussed it, and said, "Well, there's stuff you can do, you can not do so many public events."

She said no, that's her job, and she's very dedicated to it.

I can't imagine there's anybody in Congress who works hard than she does. And she really thinks it's important to let people say to her, face to face, what their concerns are, and what they think about the job she's doing.

I go to a lot of those events and sometimes i get upset at how people might yell at her, and we'd get in the car and I'd complain to her about it.

And she'd say, hey, people have the right to tell me what they think. That person is her constituent as much as the person who volunteers on her campaign.

She'd say, well, that's part of democracy. She knows that's a part of her job.

When you hear these new calls for civility, what goes through your mind?

That's always a good idea, right? People should be able to disagree without getting nasty about it.

In her last campaign there was a lot of heated discussion. Certainly, in my opinion it may have crossed the line.

Have you had a chance to give any thought to her continuing in office? Do you want her to keep this job, if she's able?

I'll tell you this: she will make a full recovery.

Just knowing how - I know her really well. She's going to come back strong and more committed than ever.

I can almost guarantee you what her first event will be - and I hate saying this, I've said it a couple of times now - I'd be shocked if the first thing she does is not "Congress On Your Corner" at that Safeway.

I mean, that's the kind of person she is.

I don't think whether she continues her career or not - can one of you guys talk to my brother - she's going to be as committed as ever.

I don't think it's even a question.

Mark, has it changed your thoughts about commanding the shuttle in April?

Oh, it has.

The next day I called my boss, I said, "Hey, we've got to come up with a plan here. I don't know if I'm going go be able to do this."

We've identified the best person to be the backup in case I decide not to return.

Will she let you decide not to return?

Just like I don't have a choice about whether she returns to Congress, she doesn't have a choice in this either. Like if I decide no to do this.....

The training aspects have grown back up.... There's a big window in which you have to train?

I've been training for this flight for a year and a half. I know it better than anyone else.

That's why there are a lot of reasons, not only personal reasons for me why it's a good idea - there are mission success reasons and safety reasons why the best scenario is if I go back to work.

Mark, is this the most time you guys have spent together during your marriage, this past week? Do you ever look back at the missed opportunities in this week and kick yourself?

Missed opportunities?

For not having more time previously, before this week. You guys have led busy lives.

Very busy. But she is supportive of what I do, and I'm very supportive of what she does and we both recognize that it's not going to be forever.

At some point I'll quit my job and she'll continue hers and we'll spend more time together.

What are you excited to do with her? What are you excited to do together, what are the things you like to do and what are you looking forward to?

She's going to want to get back on her bicycle as soon as possible, and go for a bike ride along the - what trail?

The Rillito River pathway.

What sort of personal and family support have you relied on through this - religious faith or things like that?

Gabby's rabbi comes in daily. She prays with her, and me.

I'm Catholic. I'm not in church every Sunday, but been more so lately. I've thought a lot about it.

Folks have been telling me how - even my daughter Claudia, was at some church in Houston that she went to with a friend. She was at Joel Osteen's church, she was privately with Joel Osteen, praying for Gabby.

We've had a lot of offers of help. That's a job in itself just managing that, managing all the emails I've received. There's probably 700 I haven't been able to open yet. A lot of offers to help.

The biggest thing is just the support from the people of Tucson - the memorial outside, the cards and the letters.

I should go and get his name for you, but there's a 4th grader at Craycroft Elementary School, that - there's a whole bag of cards, and this one in particular - it didn't say all that much, it just talked about, he wanted her to get better.

And on the end it said he had something for her. And then if you go to the back of the card, glued, taped to the bac is an envelope with his lunch money in it - like two dollars and some change, like 85 cents or something.

(Giffords' spokesman later told us the boy is 10-year-old Isaac Saldana, a fourth grader at Craycroft who sent $2.52.)

This morning, we told our readers we were going to sit down with you, and wanted to know some of the questions they had, and really, the biggest questions everybody had is what can they do? What do you and your family think people, how should people react to this?

I haven't had a lot of time to think about that.

But, the paramedics and the EMTs and the police officers and the doctors and nurses - they're all public servants.

Just like Gabby's a public servant. She's always been about public service and volunteering.

I think waht she would want, if there are people who want to help, go out in their community and do something important. Volunteer at the Community Food Bank.

Gabby goes there, she's there several times a year. Just volunteering, moving soup into boxes.
Just stuff like that, is I think what she would really want.

She loves Tucson, she loves this district. She likes helping people.

So I think if they could continue in her spirit, and that of the six victims - Gabby has a chance to recover - six folks including Christina Green and Gabe, at a very young age, their lives were taken from them.

You can't get that back.

I saw you at their funerals. What prompted you to go, were you there on behalf of her? Did you attend the other victims' funerals also?

I tried to go to all of them. One of them has not happened yet, it's in New Jersey.

There was a scheduling conflict with another, there were two at the same time.

I've been to 3 - Gabe's, Judge Roll's and Christina Green's.

The other one I couldn't go to because Gabby was in the OR at the time so it wasn't appropriate for me to leave.

I would've gone to all of them if i could - not only because I think it's the right thing to do, I mean you guys know my wife.

She's going to have a long list of questions when she wakes up, if she found out, "You mean, you didn't go to their funerals?"

How did your training as an astronaut, I mean, you're prepared to make it ok, fix the situation in situations that none of us can imagine - how was your astronaut training coming into play in those hours between the first call from Pia and when you got to her? Did you have a whole plan in place in your mind?

In a very odd way, this feels a lot like a Space Shuttle mission. A lot of decisions, long days, a lot of chaos all at once.

Things that aren't working right, aren't going right, you have to fix, teams of people you have to talk to, somewhat stressful, risky - not for me but for Gabby.

So I think in a way its been helpful that I could just kind of go into the mode of being focused, so I don't have to think about the other stuff.

About 5 more minutes

What was your first date?

So, our first date was....

We met on a trip to China, and then a year later they had - the same organization had a trip that was here in Arizona, because she wanted 20 of these Chinese people and the 20 other Americans in the group to see Arizona.

So she made sure that the next trip, it was so important to her that they see Arizona, so there was a trip to Arizona.

So I remember talking to about during that second trip that she had - in a month or two, she was going to visit the Florence State Prison to visit death row. She was working on legislation that had an impact, she had to make decisions about that.

So she couldn't get anybody to go with her.

I remember talking about that, I'm like, "Wow, I wouldn't mind doing that. I'll go with you."

So that was our first date. Florence State Prison.

Every day, there's something new that she's doing. What was new today?

I'd say today she's awake more. But I've been in here for the last two hours. For part of that, they gave her another CAT scan, so she disappeared for a while, and it's been kind of hectic.

You say that she recognizes that you're there, and when her mother's there. Do you feel like you're communicating with her in a meaningful way?

I think so. 

She's looking right in my eyes, she knows it's me. I've no doubt, I've no doubt about that.

When she goes back to Congress, when she goes down into the chamber, what do you think the reaction will be?


I would hope so, I would think so. I'd think they'd be very happy to see her.

She has a lot of good friends there. They love her.

I tell you what: after the memorial service, I was walking to the police car, the president was still inside, it was just myself and a Tucson police officer.

And somebody I hadn't met stopped me. He said, "Hey, I have to show you this picture."

So he gets out his iphone, I'm trying to get back to the hospital.

"No, I really have to show you this."

And he goes to this picture of Gabby, him and his wife in the Rotunda with all the statues.

And he says, "You know, she spent 45 minutes with me that day. Members of my own delegation didn't spend half that time with me."

She spent 45 minutes talking to him and his wife - it was his first day as a member of Congress - showing them around, pointing out the different statues in the Rotunda, telling him how this all works.

This was one of the Republican freshman members from Arizona. He said he didn't get that kind of treatment from anybody in his own delegation, his own caucus, but she gave him the time.

That's the kind of person she is.

(Giffords' office was unable Tuesday to provide the identity of the congressman who met with Kelly.)

Has anything in your military career been any more nerve wracking than the last week?

I flew 38 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm, 39, something like that.

That's pretty nerve wracking, getting repeatedly - night after night, having people shoot at you. That's a little stressful.

This is way up there, I'll tell you.

It's been a tough, how many days, nine, ten days?

Very stressful, very up and down, emotionally. Had a lot of great help: Pia, Rob, Gabby's staff.

The police department - these guys have been volunteering in the ICU. They're not getting paid.

There's 4 of them in there 24 hours a day, 4 to 6 of them, not a single one of them have been paid.

They had to shorten the amount of duty that they were serving because they had so many volunteers that wanted to be there. So they had to cut down the amount of time an individual could be there standing watch, to make sure she's okay.

That's the Tucson Police Department.

Some people say that is is best if there is a trauma like this, that if you lose a friend - has she been told about the staff?

No, not at all.

I've told her where she is, and she certainly recognizes that she has a serious injury, but she doesn't know what that is.

She doesn't know how it happened?

There's always the chance that she might remember what happened, but she hasn't been told what happened.

The neurologist says most likely she does not remember what happened.

Everybody likes astronauts, and wants to grow up to be one - not everybody wants to grow up to be a congresswoman.

Christina Green did.

Do you think we need to change the image we have of our public servants?

It's interesting. So Congress always has that low approval rating? But most individual members of Congress are somewhat loved by the people that elect them.

It's just the nature of the way things are.

I look up to our public officials. It's a hard job. She works almost every minute she's awake.

We've got to fit in time, Mark Time, we have a conference call and I ask to get fit into the schedule. I don't remember what color it is in the schedule.


We weave that in.

She basically works from the second she gets up to the second she goes to sleep. I think she probably takes each month, probably one day off, where she'll try to relax for a day, once a month.

That's 12 days a year.

Have their been any expressions of support from the community that you've found especially meaningful?

The lunch money.

I've walked around the memorial outside, I grabbed one of the teddy bears and brought it up to her room.

Can you walk around without people grabbing you?

At night I can. Not in the daytime. I tried it. It's not a good idea.

What was that experience like, it's very moving to be there at night, with all those candles...

It is - the candles.

How would you describe your experience there?

It depends on the day I've gone out there. Somewhat hopeful at times, or sad. Spiritual when you show up in the morning and there's this young woman with a drum, just, boom.

And nobody else is out there, and she's been doing this every morning, like before sunrise, and she stays there. She sits on the grass.

I talked to her the other day, for a little bit. She says it's a personal vigil, by herself. She shows up before anybody else can be there, except for me when I came in real early and just heard this very very faint drumming sound, and I could see her sitting out there on the grass.

Last question.

Does Gabby have a catch phrase for when the going gets tough? Does she always have something that she says when its a hard day or something sucks or something's really hard, does she have the essential Gabby catch phrase for I will prevail?

She says it's the job.

She says that a lot.

I'll have to think about it, can I get back to you? I'll think about it.

- 30 -
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2 comments on this story

Jan 19, 2011, 10:02 am
-0 +0

And I would like to add that the volunteerism of the police force is most extraordinary and speaks volumes about Representative Giffords, and the nature of community in Tucson and within the police force.

Jan 19, 2011, 9:59 am
-0 +0

Thank you for this excellent report. Very moving.

Sorry, we missed your input...

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Renee Bracamonte-Stewart/TucsonSentinel.com

Mark Kelly demonstrates how his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, plays with his wedding ring as she lies in her hospital bed.

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Videography by Dan Buckley