WEDNESDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head four months ago by a would-be assassin, will undergo surgery Wednesday in Houston to replace the piece of skull that was removed immediately after the shooting, according to the Associated Press.
This next step in a recovery described as miraculous comes only days after the three-term Democratic congresswoman from Arizona traveled to Florida to see her husband, Mark Kelly, rocket into space on the space shuttle Endeavour's last mission.
While this is a major move forward, it will have no effect on her neurological status, and any speech or other therapy will continue, according to one expert, Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.
"This is part of the recovery," Cohen said. "This is on the happier side, because it is not lifesaving. Swelling is no longer an issue, so let's protect the brain and let's give her a better cosmetic look. It's a quick thing with a fast recovery," he said.
After the shooting in Tucson, which killed six people and wounded 12 others, doctors removed a large piece of Giffords' skull to give the brain room to swell. It's likely that the bullet that pierced her brain also shattered the bone, experts said.
Cohen, who is not involved in Giffords' care but is familiar with news reports about her progress, said surgeons usually remove a piece of skull about the size of a hand. Had the skull remained intact, significant brain damage and even death might have occurred, he said.
"When the brain swells, the skull, which usually protects the brain, becomes your worst enemy," he explained.
Replacement surgery isn't done until the swelling stops and the brain has shrunk back to its normal size, Cohen added.
The replacement piece will probably be a custom-made plastic implant that fits the opening p
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