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Gabrielle Giffords responds well to skull surgery, doctors say

Physicians in Tucson say they repaired damage to Gabrielle Giffords' eye sockets on Saturday, and that she has responded well. They are still unsure about her ability to speak.

January 18, 2011|By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times

Surgeons at Tucson's University Medical Center on Monday said they had operated on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' skull Saturday to repair damage to her eye sockets caused by the bullet that passed through her head a week earlier.

The medical team had made minor repairs around her eyes when she was first brought in for surgery in order to relieve pressure on her brain, but they didn't want to spend a lot of time on it then, Dr. Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon who was part of the trauma team that cared for her, said at a Monday news conference.

"We put it off until such time as she was through the critical period," he said. "We did want to repair it within a reasonable time to prevent complications."

The gunman's bullet entered above her left eye, passed through the left hemisphere of her brain, and exited through the rear of her skull.

In the two-hour surgery, the team made an incision above Giffords' eyebrow, removed the rim of her eye socket and removed bone fragments that were impinging on the brain. They reconstructed the skull with metal mesh and closed the incision.

"We're happy to say that, within a few hours of surgery, she was waking up and back to the same level of interaction where she was before the surgery," Lemole said.

While Giffords was under anesthesia, Dr. Randall Friese, associate medical director of the trauma center, performed a tracheotomy so that Giffords could be removed from a ventilator, and inserted a feeding tube through her abdominal wall into her stomach. She has "tolerated them well," Friese said.

The tracheotomy tube "doesn't allow her to get air past her vocal cords," Friese said, so physicians have not yet been able to determine whether Giffords can speak. "She cannot vocalize, but she certainly [could] mouth words when she is ready to do that," he added.

The doctors are not certain how well she can see. "We have a suspicion she can see something, but a detailed ophthalmological examination hasn't been conducted," Lemole said.

Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, told doctors that she had been smiling at him. Friese said that sometimes people see what they want to see, but that "if he says she's smiling, I buy it."

Kelly also told Diane Sawyer of ABC News that Giffords had given him a 10-minute neck massage.

"She's in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage," Kelly told ABC in the interview, which is to air Tuesday. "It's so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she's looking out for other people."

Kelly, who has two teenagers from a previous marriage, said he would be willing to meet with the parents of the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, who have been in seclusion.

"I don't think it's their fault. It's not the parents fault," Kelly told ABC. "You know, I'd like to think I'm a person that's, you know, somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they've got to be hurting in this situation as much as much as anybody."

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