Sun January 9, 2011

Rep. Giffords Responsive To Simple Commands

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) remained heavily sedated and in critical condition Sunday, but physicians said they were optimistic about her odds a day after she was seriously wounded in a shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz.

Giffords, 40, a three-term Democrat, was shot once in the head, with the bullet going from the back left quadrant to the front, said Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center. At least six people were killed and 13 others wounded in Saturday's attack.

Lemole said Giffords was able to follow verbal commands -- squeezing his hand or showing two fingers.

"They show a very high functioning of the brain," he said.

Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma, said he was also encouraged because Giffords was able to follow simple commands. But he said she is on a ventilator and is unable to speak.

"Overall, this is about as good as it is going to get," Rhee said.

"When you get shot in the head and a bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living is very small and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands is even much smaller than that," he said.

"So, this is actually a good situation," Rhee said.

Physicians said Giffords arrived at the hospital within 38 minutes of the Saturday shooting and that doctors removed brain fragments and proceeded to relieve pressure on the brain.

Lamole said some bits of devitalized brain tissue were removed, but "not much," which he said was a good sign.

He said that Giffords had been placed in a medically induced coma, but that she was being awakened frequently to check her progress.

Doctors said the bullet hit an area of the brain that controls speech functions and the wound will lead to some degeneration of brain cells.

Rhee said the hospital received a total of 11 patients from the shooting scene. He said a 9-year-old girl "came in dead" and that physicians were unable to resuscitate her. He said Giffords was the only patient who remained in critical condition.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.