Mark Kelly stands with his wife, U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords, as she looks… (Office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle…)
Gabrielle Giffords' simple request for a piece of toast for breakfast this week signaled a milestone in her recovery — because she asked for it with spoken words.
The Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, severely wounded when she was shot in the head at a public event a month ago, has been speaking "more and more each day," C.J. Karamargin, one of her congressional aides, said Wednesday.
Karamargin could not give specifics about the extent of her speech abilities or when she said her first words, but he said the development pointed to Giffords' fighting spirit.
"It's another one of these small miracles that we're seeing that have been happening throughout this ordeal," he said.
Experts called the development a hopeful sign, but cautioned that it did not necessarily mean recovery of her language skills would be quick or complete.
The Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson killed six people and injured 13. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has been charged in the massacre. Late last month, Giffords began intense full-time therapy in Houston at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center's Institute for Rehabilitation and Research.
Brent Masel, national medical director for the Brain Injury Assn. of America, said the fact that Giffords not only spoke but also made a request at the appropriate time was a good sign.
"This is, quite frankly, the best news I've heard in terms of her recovery since she got out of the ICU," he said.
Injuries like that of Giffords to the left side of the brain lead to an acquired language disorder known as aphasia in a third to a half of patients, experts said. In some cases, patients may be unable to get words out at all. In others, they believe they are speaking clearly when they are in fact uttering nonsense.
Even for patients who are eventually able to recover their full speech abilities, the process can take years.
"Obviously the fact that she said a few words can be interpreted as a positive, but without knowing the full picture, it's hard to know what her long-term prognosis is," said Ellayne Ganzfried, executive director of the National Aphasia Assn.
Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, posted an update on Facebook in which he spoke of "encouraging signs" and shared pictures of her hospital room decked out in photos of loved ones, a University of Arizona Wildcats flag and gifts from well-wishers.