THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Reports of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' heartening medical progress continued to arrive Thursday, five days after she was struck in the head at close range by an assassin's bullet.
Giffords' doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson said Thursday morning that she was able to keep her eyes open for up to 15 minutes at a time and can move her legs and one of her hands, The New York Times reported.
"She is doing some fairly specific things with her left hand," Dr. Peter Rhee, the hospital's chief of trauma, said during a news conference. "She is yawning. She is starting to rub her eyes."
Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr., chief of neurosurgery at the hospital, said Giffords can also "move both of her legs to command," the newspaper reported.
The next key step will be removing her breathing tube, and perhaps have her sit in a chair on Friday, said Rhee, who has treated soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The doctors want to ensure that Giffords doesn't regress and are watching for pneumonia and blood clots, the Associated Press reported.
During a speech Wednesday at the "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America" memorial, President Barack Obama said Giffords "opened her eyes" for the first time shortly after his visit with her and her husband Mark Kelly at University Medical Center, 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."
Reports of the events in Giffords' room followed word from her doctors Wednesday that she continued to make progress.
"She has a 101 percent chance of surviving," Rhee told the AP. "She will not die."
Lemole, Giffords' neurosurgeon, added that doctors 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.
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.; The New York Times; CBS News; USA Today; Associated Press
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