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Dr. Gerard Francisco (left) gives a medical update on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during a news conference in Houston, Texas on March 11.  (AP photo/David J. Phillip)

 

HOUSTON — Mass shooting survivor Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona faces “a good possibility” of being able to attend and personally witness her astronaut-husband’s space shuttle launch next month from Cape Canaveral in Florida, declared Gifford’s Filipino-American doctor Gerard Francisco.

Francisco, chief medical officer of TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) Memorial Hermann in Houston and head of the team overseeing Giffords’ rehabilitation, said the Democratic congresswoman continues to make a rapid recovery from a near-fatal gunshot to the head, and may be well enough to be at the April 19 launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour final mission in space to be commanded by Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly.

“The goal is for her to witness the launch in April,” the University of the Philippines medical graduate physician said in a press conference on March 11.

“So we want to make sure that when the time comes for the shuttle launch, if they (Giffords family) decide to take her there, that she will be ready to participate in that activity.”

“If the goal is for her to witness the launch in April, our No. 1 concern is whether it will be safe and appropriate,” he added.

“We’re planning towards that, but there are no details we can share. There are a lot of options we’re considering at this point.”

Giffords, who was shot in the head at close range, was among 13 people wounded in a Jan. 8 attack on a community gathering in front of a supermarket in Tucson.

Six people were killed, including a federal judge and a girl, 9, and 12 others were wounded.

Since she was moved to TIRR on Jan. 21, Giffords has shown “miraculous” signs of recovery, especially through music, even singing “Happy Birthday” to her husband and the pop tune “American Pie” together with a friend of the family.

 

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REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS


Francisco said Giffords is undergoing three to five hours of therapy a day at TIRR, a 119-bed rehab center in the huge, multi-hospital Hermann health-care system.

He said the staff has “been kept busy reimagining and rethinking the rehab program” because of the congresswoman’s progress.

That consists of adding new forms of therapy and making the ones she’s already doing more difficult and complex.

Francisco added that Giffords “gets excited when there’s an accomplishment.”

“We know that she knows when she has accomplished an important milestone,” said Francisco, who is a former chief resident in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Medicine and Dentistry-New Jersey Medical School.

“I feel I know her very well.”

Francisco said Giffords was “gaining more movement, she’s gaining more ability to do things for herself...the amount of assistance that she needs has decreased significantly.”

Francisco credits his medical education in the Philippines for giving him the necessary background in treating Giffords.

“When I was a medical student at UP, I had my first exposure to physical medicine and rehab during my training, and had excellent professors and residents as role models,” he told “Balitang America.”

Francisco, 47, is affiliated with 10 hospitals.

He has published dozens of medical studies and writings, and is a frequent lecturer nationally and internationally on a number of rehab-related subjects.

He is currently conducting research on the use of botulinum toxin and intrathecal baclofen for the treatment of spasticity, along with the use of robots to facilitate recovery after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

He was elected to “Best Doctors in America” for 2007-2008 by his peers.

From 2001-2009, he has been listed in “Best Doctors in America.”

Meanwhile, doctors said they and Kelly have told Giffords she was shot, an event she doesn’t remember.

They described the deficit as normal and said her memory is otherwise intact, for both events from the distant past and new events and people.

They also said Giffords is now walking with assistance, stringing words together and able to repeat what’s said to her, an important sign of neurological recovery because it means “her whole primary language areas are intact.”

“We can really have a conversation with her at this point,” said Dr. Dong Kim, Giffords’ neurologist, who announced that Giffords is recovering “by leaps and bounds.”

“She’s already starting to speak in full sentences when she wants something.”

He said she’ll say, “I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”

Doctors expect that Giffords, who wears a protective helmet since she still lacks part of her skull, will undergo another operation to repair the cranial damage, though no date for the procedure has yet been scheduled.

Although they described Giffords’ progress as “spectacular,” TIRR doctors said there’s no timetable yet for her to be discharged and become an outpatient.

They said Giffords needs to “do more of what’s she doing, for longer periods of time, without assistance.”

The alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, 22, last week pleaded not guilty to a 49-count indictment over the attack.

Authorities described him as a mentally unstable college dropout who became obsessed with carrying out violence against Giffords.

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