THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- In an unscripted moment during his speech Wednesday at the "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America" memorial, President Barack Obama said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords "opened her eyes" shortly after his visit with her and her husband Mark Kelly at University Medical Center in Tucson, CBS News reported.
An aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) confirmed that Pelosi, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) were in the hospital room when Giffords opened her eyes. The three women are all close friends of Giffords, the news network said.
During his speech, Obama said, "Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. I can tell you, she knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her."
According to USA Today, Wasserman Schultz said the events inside Giffords' hospital room Wednesday were like "watching a miracle."
Gillibrand and Wasserman Schultz talked with reporters as they flew back from Tucson and their quotes came from a pool report distributed to all news media, USA Today reported.
Reports of the events in Giffords' hospital room followed word from her doctors Wednesday that the Arizona Congresswoman continues to make progress. She was breathing on her own and moving both arms -- just four days after an assassin's bullet struck her brain.
"She has a 101 percent chance of surviving," Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at Tucson's University Medical Center told the Associated Press. "She will not die."
Dr. Michael Lemole, Giffords' neurosurgeon, added that doctors have left a breathing tube in the 40-year-old woman to protect her airways, but she is drawing breaths on her own, and is alert and responding to doctors, the AP reported.
Giffords' doctors said Monday that she was able to follow simple instructions, and responded to verbal commands by raising two fingers of her left hand and even managed to give a thumbs-up, the AP reported. They also said her brain remained swollen, but the pressure wasn't increasing --- a good sign for her recovery.
By Tuesday, the doctors said Giffords could raise both of her arms.
Still, experts said Giffords likely suffered some permanent damage, but it's not yet clear how extensive that damage might be.
Dr. David Langer, director of cerebrovascular research at the Cushing Neuroscience Institutes, part of North Shore/Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Great Neck, N.Y., said: "She's probably going to survive in all likelihood, but months or even a year from now we may not know what her ultimate prognosis will be."
"She'll likely have a deficit in the near term, but we don't know if she'll end up in a wheelchair like James Brady [President Ronald Reagan's press secretary who was injured by a bullet during a 1981 assassination attempt on the president] or a functioning Congresswoman. We can't know," added Langer, who was not involved with Giffords' care.
Giffords was gravely injured, 13 others were wounded, and six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed when a 22-year-old man, Jared Loughner, pulled out a semiautomatic Glock pistol in front of a Safeway supermarket on Saturday in Tucson, where Giffords was meeting constituents. A Democrat, she was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006.
The fact that Giffords is alive is a bit of a miracle.
According to Langer, 90 percent of people with gunshot wounds to the head die.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on traumatic brain injury.
SOURCES: David Langer, M.D., director, cerebrovascular research, Cushing Institutes of Neuroscience, North Shore/Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Great Neck, N.Y.; CBS News; USA Today; Associated Press
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