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Wounded Congresswoman Breathing on Her Own: Report
Date:1/11/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was breathing on her own Tuesday, her doctors said, three days after she was struck in the brain by an assassin's bullet.

Dr. Michael Lemole, Giffords' neurosurgeon, said doctors left a breathing tube in the 40-year-old woman to protect her airway, but she is drawing breaths on her own, is alert and responding to doctors, the Associated Press reported.

The doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson who operated on Giffords immediately after the shooting Saturday were encouraged Monday by her ability to follow simple instructions.

They said Giffords was responding 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.

"That's why we are much more optimistic and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief after about the third day," LeMole, who described Giffords' condition as stable, said Monday.

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.

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