Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head in a Tucson parking lot in January, "is making leaps and bounds in terms of neurological progress," doctors said Friday, and there is "a good possibility" she will be able to attend the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, which her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, will command in April.
Giffords' speech "is getting very good" and she "is starting to walk with assistance," said Dr. Dong Kim, director of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, where she has been undergoing physical therapy since the end of January. "She has made a tremendous amount of progress from six weeks ago," he said.
"She is clearly saying words she wants and stringing words together … trying to speak in full sentences, such as 'I'm tired. I want to go to bed,'" he said. "She can say anything we want her to."
As she has gained strength, therapists have been able to add to her program, both in terms of difficulty and the types of therapy given.
"She is responding beautifully," Kim said. "She is gaining more movement, more ability to do things for herself.... The amount of assistance she needs has reduced significantly.
"Given that it has been only two months and she is already walking, that is a very favorable sign that she will be even stronger over the next few months."
During the course of the therapy, Giffords' bubbly personality has emerged. "Compared to a couple of months ago, she is able to express her personality; what she wants and doesn't want. It's not flashes. It's a constant and wonderful thing," Kim said
She also has a good attention span and is able to engage with the doctors and therapists for long periods during therapy and between sessions, he said.
Giffords' memory of her childhood and past years is good and her memory of ongoing events is also good, but she has no memory of the shooting itself and the immediate aftermath, "which is normal," Kim said.
"We do not anticipate any memory problems for her," he added.
Surgeons removed the tracheotomy tube from her throat last week because she has been doing so well, Kim said. In May, they will probably replace the section of skull that was removed to prevent brain damage from swelling — about the normal time period for such a procedure. Giffords has been wearing a helmet to protect her brain.
"Our goal is for her to witness the launch in April," Kim said, "but our No. 1 concern is that it is safe and appropriate for her."