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Doc: Giffords '100 percent' certain to survive

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Doc: Giffords '100 percent' certain to survive

  • Giffords' 'prognosis for survival is 100 percent,' Rhee told Britain's Channel 4 News (watch the video at the bottom of the story).
    Giffords' 'prognosis for survival is 100 percent,' Rhee told Britain's Channel 4 News (watch the video at the bottom of the story).

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is "100 percent" certain to survive, said Dr. Peter Rhee, a surgeon treating her for a gunshot wound to the head.

"As a physician I'm going to get into a lot of trouble for this, but her prognosis for survival is 100 percent, as far as it being short term," Rhee told Britain's Channel 4 News (watch the video below).

"Hopefully she'll live to be 95 years old," said Rhee, the medical director for University Medical Center's trauma center.

"What her recovery is going to do I really don't know. I'm very optimistic however that she's not going to be in a vegetative type of state," Rhee said.

"I think she's going to make a fair amount of recovery. What kind of deficits she'll have in the future I really can't say at this point but I'm still very optimistic," Rhee said.

Giffords remained in critical condition at UMC after she was shot in the head while meeting with constituents Saturday.

Six were killed and 13 others were shot, authorities said.

Accused shooter Jared Lee Loughner, 22, made an initial appearance in a Phoenix court Monday. Loughner faces five federal charges in the killings of U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll and Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of Giffords' staff; and attempting to kill Giffords and two other staffers: Ron Barber and Pamela Simon.

Brain remains swollen

Giffords brain remains swollen, but the pressure isn't increasing, doctors said a briefing Monday.

Her condition is stable, neurosurgeon Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr. said.

"No change is good, and there is no change," said Lemole.

"That's why we are much more optimistic and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief after about the third day," he said.

It's hard to observe if Giffords can recognize anyone, Lemole said. She is on a ventilator, which covers much of her face.

Giffords is following basic commands. Lemole said such commands can include moving fingers and wiggling toes, but wouldn't discuss specifics about what commands the congresswoman is following.

"Not only are those centers of the brain working but they're communicating with one another," another promising sign, Lemole said.

Recovery after a gunshot wound to the head can take weeks or months, doctors said.

"As far as a functional assessment, we're not in a position to do that at this time," Lemole said.

The bullet that hit Giffords traveled the length of the left side of her brain. It entered the back of her skull and exited above her left eye, doctors said.

Sunday, Lemole described the wound as "very devastating."

"The higher the trajectory, the better the hope of recovery," Lemole said at Monday's briefing. He explained that wounds close to the base of the brain can affect basic body functions.

Swelling of the brain is the most serious threat now that her condition is stable. Surgeons removed the left half of her skull to allow her brain to expand without bruising, Lemole said.

The bone removed can be implanted once the swelling subsides.

"We not going to speculate" about her recovery, Lemole said. "I've seen the full range of possibilities."

Giffords was able to respond to simple commands when she came to the emergency room shortly after 10:30 a.m. Saturday but couldn't speak and remains unable to.

"She did not say any words," said University Medical Center trauma chief Peter Rhee, M.D.

When paramedics brought Giffords to the medical center barely half an hour after the shooting, she was whisked to surgery where doctors removed portion of skull covering the left side of her brain to relieve pressure from swelling. The bone was preserved and can be replaced after the threat of swelling passes, Rhee said Sunday.

The surgery included removal of some "devitalized brain," Lemole told reporters Sunday.

"Fortunately we didn't have to do a lot of that," he said.

The bullet passed through the entire length of her brain but missed some critical areas that would have made recovery much more difficult.

The projectile did not cross the central dividing line between her brain's hemispheres, which would have been a much worse injury. Recovery from injuries such as this are often measured in years, Lemole said.

Giffords is in a drug-induced coma in intensive care. Doctors frequently awaken her to check her responsiveness, and she could open her eyes and respond to simple commands Sunday - an encouraging sign, said Rhee said at Monday's briefing.

Giffords cannot speak because she is on a ventilator, and cannot see because of the area of her injury and the surgery requires her eyes be kept closed, the doctors said Monday.

Other patients

Of the 7 other patients who remain in the hospital, 5 are in serious condition, and 2 are in good condition, said Rhee. One remains in intensive care.

The other patients have had operations on their abdomens, surgery for vascular issues, and extremity issues, Rhee said.

Six surgeries were performed on victims, Rhee said. "It was a combat, trauma type of scenario," he said Sunday.

"Many of them will have further surgeries," said Rhee at Monday's press conference.

Some have severe injuries to the torso, he said. Doctors wouldn't give much information on the other patients, citing confidentiality laws.

A memorial to the shooting victims outside UMC and contributions from the community "speak to the way (Tucson) is coming together and trying to heal," said Lemole.

The incident and its aftermath aren't burdening UMC financially, said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, head of the surgery department. He said he couldn't provide a cost estimate for treating the victims.

"We're seeing the best of what our community can offer," he said, citing donations of food and work done by volunteers.

The doctors now plan to hold another press conference Tuesday morning.

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