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Gabrielle Giffords stands, tries to speak, husband says

Mark Kelly says his wife has been able to take a couple of steps with assistance from hospital aides. He says plans are progressing to move Giffords to a rehabilitation facility in Houston.

January 21, 2011|By Thomas H. Maugh II and Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been able to take a couple of steps with assistance from medical personnel, and stand and look out the window of her hospital room, her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said in a news conference Thursday in Tucson.

Kelly said he also thinks Giffords has made some attempts to speak, but has been unable to because of the presence of a tracheotomy tube to help her breathe. The tube prohibits air from moving past the vocal cords.

Developing: Giffords being moved to Houston

She is also scrolling through an iPad, said Dr. Michael Lemole, a neurosurgeon at Tucson's University Medical Center, where Giffords has been receiving care since she was shot in the head nearly two weeks ago.

There are also indications that Giffords has maintained all of her vision. In tests with colored objects, she is able to note not only their location but also their color, doctors said.

"These are all fantastic advances for her. They do show higher cognitive function," Lemole said. "But I do want to caution … that she has a long road ahead of her."

On Friday, Giffords will be moved to the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, where Kelly has been training for a space shuttle mission scheduled for April.

Giffords will be driven to an ambulance plane that will take her to Houston, said Dr. Peter Rhee, chief trauma surgeon at the Tucson medical center. He said the transition would be seamless. "We will do all the lifting," he joked.

Kelly said the family had considered a number of facilities throughout the country, all of which could provide excellent care.

"The critical factor in this decision is that it will let me be there by her side as much as possible every single day," he said. "I don't know how long this process is going to take. If I want to address problems with our teenage children, or consider returning to work, it makes the most sense that she is at Memorial Hermann in Houston."

At the rehab facility, Giffords' care will be overseen by Dr. John Holcomb, a retired Army colonel with extensive experience in treating penetrating head injuries. Giffords will initially enter the hospital's intensive care unit for evaluation, then be moved into a tailored rehabilitation program, Holcomb said in a statement.

Kelly said he is confident Giffords recognizes him. "She'll smile at me and will do things she'll only do around me, like pat me on the face," he said. "I can just look in her eyes and tell. She is very aware of the situation."

He added that he is "extremely hopeful she will make a full recovery.... In two months, you'll see her walking through the front door of this building."

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

Maugh reporting from Los Angeles and Santa Cruz from Tucson.

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