Gabrielle Giffords

Just recently I saw a news clip of Gabrielle Giffords and was amazed at the progress she has made.  She is a survivor and a fighter.

I didn’t know anything about Gabrielle Giffords until the shooting which was reported to be an assassination attempt on her at a supermarket where she was meeting publicly with constituents.  She was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head; thirteen people were injured and six others were killed in the shooting, among them conservative federal judge John Roll.  Giffords was taken to rehabilitation facility in Houston, Texas, where she recovered some of her ability to walk, speak, read and write.

Why was there an attempt on her life?  The suspect in her shooting was Jared Lee Loughner who began to exhibit unusual behavior a year before the incident.  According to an old friend, Bryce Tierney, Loughner had exhibited a longstanding dislike for Gabrielle Giffords, a Blue Dog Democrat, stating that women should not hold positions of power. He repeatedly derided Giffords as a “fake”. This belief intensified after he attended her August 25, 2007 event when she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer his question: “What is government if words have no meaning?” (Loughner kept Giffords’ form letter, which thanked him for attending the 2007 event, in the same box as an envelope which was scrawled with phrases like “die bitch” and “assassination plans have been made”.)  On January 8, 2011 he carried out his plan.  Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head outside of a  Safeway grocery store in Casas Adobes, Arizona, a suburban area northwest of Tucson, during her first “Congress on Your Corner” gathering of the year.

On the same day, doctors performed emergency surgery to extract skull fragments and a small amount of necrotic tissue from her brain. The bullet had passed through Giffords’ head without crossing the midline of the brain, where the most critical injuries typically result. Part of her skull was removed to avoid further damage to the brain from pressure caused by swelling. Doctors who first treated Giffords said the bullet had entered the back of her head and exited through the front of her skull, but physicians later concluded that it had traveled in the opposite direction.  Upon receiving the news from a staffer, husband Mark E. Kelly and his daughters flew in a friend’s aircraft directly from Houston to Tucson.

Giffords began her recovery and by mid-January she began simple physical therapy, including sitting up with the assistance of hospital staff and moving her legs upon command. President Obama visited her on January 12 at the medical center and publicly stated in an evening memorial ceremony that she had “opened her eyes for the first time” that day.  On January 15, surgeons performed a tracheotomy, replacing the ventilator tube with a smaller one inserted through Giffords’ throat to assist independent breathing. Ophthalmologist Lynn Polonski surgically repaired Giffords’ damaged eye socket, with additional reconstructive surgery to follow.

Giffords’ condition was upgraded to “serious” on January 17, and to “good” on January 25. She was transferred on January 21 to the Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston, Texas, where she subsequently moved to the center’s Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) to undergo a program of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Medical experts’ initial assessment in January was that Giffords’ recovery could take from several months to more than one year. Upon her arrival in Houston, her doctors were optimistic, saying she has “great rehabilitation potential”.

Giffords underwent cranioplasty surgery on May 18, 2011, to replace part of her skull that had been removed in January to permit her brain to swell after the gunshot to her head. Surgeons replaced the bone, using tiny screws, with a piece of molded hard plastic; they expect that her skull will eventually fuse with the plastic’s porous material. At that point, Giffords no longer needed to wear the helmet that she had been wearing to protect her brain from further injury.   On June 9, 2011, Giffords’ aide Pia Carusone announced that while Giffords’ comprehension appeared to be “close to normal, if not normal,” she was not yet using complete sentences. On June 12, two photos of Giffords taken on May 17 were released, the first since the shooting. On June 15, Giffords was released from the hospital to return home, where she continued speech, music, physical and occupational therapy.

On August 1, Giffords made her first public appearance on the House floor to vote in favor of raising the debt limit ceiling.  She was greeted with standing ovation and accolades from her fellow members of Congress.  A Giffords spokesman, Mark Kimble, stated in August 2011 that the congresswoman was walking without a cane and writing with her left hand, as she did not have full use of her right side.  Her husband Mark wrote a memoir which was released in November 2011.  In Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, he reported that Giffords vows to return to Congress, although she continues to struggle with language and has lost 50 percent of her vision in both eyes.

On January 22, 2011, she announced that she intended to resign her seat by the end of the week. Giffords stated in a video released about the decision that she was resigning so that she could continue to focus on her recovery.  She formally submitted her resignation on 25 January, with the letter of her resignation being tearfully read on her behalf by fellow Democratic representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz accompanied by Giffords, Arizona Republican Congressman Jeff Flake (who sat with and assisted Giffords during the State of the Union address) and several other legislators on the floor.  She attended President Obama’s State of Union address on January 24 and received a standing ovation.

Giffords is the third woman in Arizona’s history to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Considered a “Blue Dog” Democrat, her stances on health care reform and illegal immigration were sources of attention for those opposed to her candidacy and have made her a recipient of criticism from various conservative groups. She has described herself as a “former Republican.”

This is what others had to say about Giffords:

Gabby Giffords was a friend of mine. She is not only an extraordinary public servant, but she is also somebody who is warm and caring. She is well liked by her colleagues and well liked by her constituents.” – President Obama

Congresswoman Giffords is a brilliant and courageous Member of Congress, bringing to Washington the views of a new generation of national leaders. It is especially tragic that she was attacked as she was meeting with her constituents whom she serves with such dedication and distinction – Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi

My sister-in-law, Gabrielle Giffords, is a kind, compassionate, brilliant woman, loved by friends and political adversaries alike – a true patriot: What is going on in our country that such a good person can be the subject of such senseless violence? It’s a sad day – Astronaut Scott Kelly

Gabby’s got a long road ahead of her. We know that the recovery from these [kinds] of injuries isn’t measured in days and weeks. It’s more like weeks and months. … But, you know, she’s a really, really tough woman – Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband

Notes to Women salutes this woman whose fighting spirit has enabled her to make the remarkable recovery she has.  We wish her all the best as she focuses on making a full recovery.

My position is to listen to my constituents, learn from the best information available and ultimately make sound, rational decisions that are going to be beneficial to the people of the 8th Congressional District.

Our country must be strong enough to solve problems, and that means we must learn how to work together again.

But the safety of the world, in some sense, depends on your saying “no” to inhumane ideas. Standing up for one’s own integrity makes you no friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know.

Gabrielle Giffords



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