On January 8, 2011, the young, popular female Representative from Arizona’s 8th Congressional District walked forward in front of a grocery store to engage in an informal meeting with her constituents.
Almost immediately after she began talking to local voters, a man ran up to the crowd and began firing a 9-millimeter pistol at the representative. He hit 19 people, including the congresswoman. Six people died.
The congresswoman, Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, was shot in the head and suffered traumatic brain injuries. That was nearly 10 years ago. What has happened since then? and How is she doing today?
On that day in January, the shooter shot 33 rounds into the crowd and at Representative Giffords. One of these passed all the way through her head, from front to back, destroying all the tissue that lay in its path. Giffords was lucky that the bullet did not cross the midline of her brain, which would have undoubtedly created much more significant damage.
Giffords’ injuries, however, were very substantial. The initial injury to Giffords’ brain was complicated and exacerbated by skull fragments that penetrated her brain tissue as well, blown into her skull by the impact. In addition, one of Giffords’ eye sockets was badly damaged.
Giffords received emergency first-aid from one of her interns, Daniel Hernandez Jr, who is credited with saving her life. She was then flown to the University Medical Center of Tuscon in critical condition, where she underwent emergency surgery. The prognosis at that time for Rep. Giffords was guarded but optimistic.
The Congresswoman’s Recovery
After initially being placed in a medically induced coma, she did show signs of being awake and able to respond to commands once she was wakened.
Giffords was engaging in simple physical therapy by mid-January, just weeks after her injury. At the time, family and physicians were encouraged that she could move all her limbs and that she was breathing independently.
The congresswoman underwent several reconstructive surgeries to repair her eye socket and skull and was listed in “good” condition by the end of January. At this point, she was transferred to a rehabilitative center to work on regaining her ability to move and speak.
During the next months, Giffords would make substantial and heartening progress, with improvements in her ability to think, speak and move that placed her in the top 5 percent of patients recovering from similar injuries. Though Giffords had lost approximately 50% of sight in both of her eyes, by late April, she was walking, writing and reading. Over this time, Giffords also began to be able to speak in short phrases and was occasionally able to produce longer, more complex sentences.
Giffords was released to recover at home in June of 2011 and was able to travel to her husband’s (astronaut Mark Kelly’s) launch aboard the Space Shuttle. By this point, aides reported that Giffords’s ability to understand and comprehend was “close to normal if not normal.” Her ability to speak, however, still lagged behind, and she struggled to make complete complex sentences.
In August of 2011, Giffords returned to the house floor to vote on a bill. She was walking without a cane and was able to write well left-handed (she had been right-handed before the assassination attempt).
While all of the progress that Giffords had made was impressive, she still needed significant recovery and rehabilitation near her home in Houston, and so resigned from Congress in 2012.
How Is Giffords Doing Today?
While in 2011 and 2012 Giffords was still struggling to communicate (her brain and cognitive functions were normal, but her ability to speak was still damaged), by 2016 and 2017, she showed significant improvement.
In 2016, her surgeon gave an interview in which he described Giffords’ recovery. He described how the prognosis for Giffords’ recovery was never going to be to take her back exactly back to where she was, but that she had the potential to maximize the way her brain functioned to get back to a “good,” if different place.
Giffords’ surgeon noted that the recovery for Giffords was long, arduous and tiring. He congratulated the amazing progress she had made, saying that he knew it had been a lot, but that she had clearly put in the work.
In 2017, Giffords gave a speech commemorating a naval ship named in her honor, showing off that hard work. She spoke in somewhat halting but fluent speech in full and complex sentences that showed a range of emotion and flair.
Giffords was an active campaigner and participant in the 2018 mid-term elections, working through her political action committee “Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence.” She Penned an editorial for USA Today on the topic of gun violence and worked actively on the campaign trail for various candidates.
While Giffords may be in a different place, she is still a vital politician and activist, active on Twitter and working passionately to (in her words in 2019) “give voice to millions of regular Americans who didn’t used to feel like there was room for them in the gun safety debate.”
Whether or not you agree with her stance on gun control, we can all agree that Giffords’ work to recover has been impressive.