SATURDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords underwent surgery Saturday morning to replace the breathing tube that had been in place since she was shot through the head a week ago in an attack in Tucson that killed six people.
The new tube was put in to protect her windpipe, according to the Associated Press. The breathing tube had been left in place as a precaution, although Giffords has been breathing on her own.
Doctors also inserted a feeding tube, the AP reported, adding that both procedures are common in people hospitalized with brain injuries.
On Friday, her doctors said Giffords was "continuing to make all the right moves in all the right directions" toward recovery. The Wall Street Journal reported that she has defied the odds and continued show improved function day by day.
"She is beginning to carry out more complex sequences [of movement] in response to our commands, and even spontaneously," said Dr. Michael Lemole Jr., neurosurgery chief at Tucson's University Medical Center. "We couldn't have hoped for any better improvement than we're seeing now."
Giffords' doctors say she has been opening her eyes more often since she first did so Wednesday. That was the day she also touched the wedding ring worn by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, after being asked by him to do so.
On Thursday morning, doctors said Giffords was able to keep her eyes open for up to 15 minutes at a time and could 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 at the time. "She is yawning. She is starting to rub her eyes."
Lemole also noted that Giffords could also "move both of her legs to command," the newspaper reported.
Doctors want to ensure that Giffords doesn't regress and are watching for pneumonia and blood clots, the Associated Press reported.
Experts also said that, despite her remarkable progress so far, Giffords may have 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 in a shooting spree in front of a Safeway supermarket on Saturday in Tucson, where Giffords was meetings constituents. Jared Loughner, 22, faces multiple murder and attempted murder charges in the shootings. Giffords, a Democrat, 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; Wall Street Journal; CBS News; USA Today; Associated Press
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