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Photos of Giffords released

  • P.K. Weis/SouthwestPhotoBank.com
  • P.K. Weis/SouthwestPhotoBank.com
  • Giffords before the shooting.
    courtesy Rep. Giffords' officeGiffords before the shooting.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office released two photos of her early Sunday, the first public pictures in which her face can be seen since the Jan. 8 shootings.

The photos were taken May 17, the day between the launch of the space shuttle and Giffords' cranioplasty surgery at a Houston hospital.

The photos were taken by P.K. Weis of SouthwestPhotoBank.com —the former photo editor of the Tucson Citizen and an occasional contributor to TucsonSentinel.com.

The only images of Giffords since the day of the shooting were a grainy video clip of her climbing the stairway of an airplane when she flew to Florida to see the space shuttle launch.

Information about her condition has been tightly controlled. Doctors have been limited in their statements by privacy laws, and her congressional staff have been careful in their statements.

Five months after she was shot through the brain, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords struggles to communicate, an aide told a columnist for the Arizona Republic.

Giffords searches for words and has trouble putting sentences together, said the congresswoman's chief of staff, Pia Carusone, in a piece by E.J. Montini on Thursday.

Speaking directly about Giffords' condition and when she might make a public appearance for the first time since the Jan. 8 shooting that claimed the lives of six others, Carusone said Giffords' "communication skills have been impacted the most."

"If you think of it as someone who is able to communicate with you clearly, it is easy to test them. You can ask them a series of questions and you can get clear answers back. Where as with Gabby what we've been able to infer and what we believe is that her comprehension is very good. I don't know about percentage-wise or not, but it's close to normal if not normal."

Giffords is relying on expressions and gestures, rather than speaking, to completely convey her thoughts, Carusone said.

"She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing. Add it all together and she's able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble."

After an operation on her skull last month, Carusone told reporters that Giffords' speech was improving, and that she understood abstract concepts.

Giffords "understands, if not everything, close to everything" when presented with complex concepts, Carusone said in May. Giffords is "absolutely curious" about current events, she said.

"She understands sarcastic humor," she said. "Her voice sounds very normal, it sounds as it did before the shooting," she said.

"She's able to fluctuate her volume level" and express being light-hearted or serious with the quality of her voice, Carusone said.

"Her speech is getting better with the constant therapy she's doing."

Giffords was shot through the left side of her brain, which controls speech and language, at a "Congress On Your Corner" meet-and-greet with constituents.

Continuing in office

As I reported Wednesday, Giffords' staffers have been relunctant to comment on her plans to continue in office, or run again. Carusone didn't stray much beyond the party line.

"The only firm timetable is the legal timetable and that is May of 2012, when petitions are due for reelection," Carusone told the Republic. "That's a firm timetable."

"Short of that, we'd love to know today what her life will be, what her quality of life will be, which will determine whether she'll be able to run for office and all sorts of other things involving her life. But we just don't know yet…We're about halfway through the process that is the most important time for recovery. Patients recover for the rest of their lives but it's the first 12 to 14 months that you make the biggest jumps… In the doctors minds it's not even close to when you begin to make the final prognosis for the quality of her life."

While doctors have called Giffords' recovery "miraculous," Carusone said she has a long way to go.

"She's living. She's alive. But if she were to plateau today, and this was as far as she gets, it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before. There's no comparison. All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going and that when she does plateau it will be at a place far away from here."

While some have called upon Giffords to resign her seat, there's been little indication that she will do so any time soon.

Beginning just days after the shooting, others have explored declaring her seat vacant. A state law on vacant offices doesn't apply to federal representatives, and an online petition asking Gov. Jan Brewer to declare a special election has attracted few signatures.

According to the Constitution, members of the House of Representatives can only be forced out of office by a vote by the House. Federal courts have found that states are powerless to set limits on those serving in federal office above those found in the Constitution and federal law.

Mo Udall hospitalized for 4 months

Arizona has had a representative who was unable to work for a long period before, without attempting to invoke the vacancy law.

In 1991, then-Rep. Mo Udall was hospitalized for nearly four months, until he resigned on May 4.

Udall, who had Parkinson's disease, fell down the stairs of his McLean, Va., home on Jan. 6. He suffered several broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade and a concussion.

Udall announced his retirement on April 19 of that year.

Accused shooter found incompetent to stand trial

Jared Lee Loughner is accused of killing six and shooting Giffords in the head in what authorities charge was an assassination attempt.

Among those killed were a nine-year-old girl and Arizona's presiding federal judge.

He also is charged with wounding 12 others at the "Congress On Your Corner" meet and greet with constituents at a Northwest Side grocery store on the morning of Jan. 8.

He was found incompetent to stand trial last month, and was sent to a federal facility in Missouri for treatment to restore his ability to understand the charges against him and participate in his defense.

In March, Loughner was charged with 49 federal counts in the attack. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf by the court.

Fourteen of the charges Loughner faces could result in the death penalty, if the prosecution seeks it. No decision of whether to ask for capital punishment has been made, authorities have said.

Loughner likely will face local charges in the shooting incident, authorities have said, but only after the federal case is resolved.

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