Three months after the Arizona attack that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a coma, she is walking, talking, and wants to attend her husband’s space shuttle launch. But will she ever fully recover? In this week’s Newsweek, Peter J. Boyer tells the untold story of the congresswoman’s struggle.
The scheduled launch this month of the space shuttle Endeavour has aroused public interest at a level not seen since NASA’s glory days—not because of the mission itself, but because of one potential spectator at the Florida liftoff. Since the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, it has been the goal of her family and doctors that she attend the launch of the Endeavour, commanded by her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly. For Gabby (as she is now known by all), it would be a symbolic moment of triumph. For the country and the world, waiting expectantly and hopefully, it would be the first glimpse of the convalescent who has become America’s Congresswoman.
Over these last months, Giffords’s difficult path to recovery became that rarest thing: an ongoing good-news story that the public devoured and the media were happy to provide. From the start, details of her actual condition were scant, but her family and staff, colleagues and friends provided enough fresh tidbits to feed the news cycle. The first big news was delivered by the president himself—”Gabby opened her eyes for the first time,” Obama announced at a Tucson memorial service, which had the feel of a pep rally—and in the weeks that followed, stunningly good news came forth from Tucson in a steady flow. Giffords touched her husband’s face and reached up to give him a neck massage. She spoke her first word, asking for “toast” for breakfast. She was reading get-well cards and scrolling through her iPad. She was able to stand and was even taking a few steps.
Dr. Peter Rhee, the trauma surgeon in Tucson who early on announced that “she has a 101 percent chance of surviving,” determined in February that Giffords was ready to be transferred to the Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston. Her new neurosurgeon there said she “looked spectacular,” and soon, after she moved to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, came word that Giffords was conversing and even singing.
One effect of all of this good news was to dampen overt speculation about Giffords’s political viability. In March her Washington friends held a political fundraiser for her, fetching about $125,000 in pledges to support her 2012 reelection campaign. The New York Times reported that the Giffords team was actively advancing the prospect of a run for departing Republican Jon Kyl’s U.S. Senate seat. One of Giffords’ Democratic House colleagues, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, visited Giffords in Houston and emerged to say that she was eager to return to the House. “She’s raising money now,” Berkley told a Las Vegas television reporter. “She’s running a campaign from the hospital.” Earlier this month Daniel Hernandez, the young Giffords intern who rushed to her side after the shooting and accompanied her to the hospital, told the Arizona press that he’d had several telephone conversations with his boss, some of them “lengthy.”
- Gabrielle Giffords wants to get back to work, says husband Mark Kelly (telegraph.co.uk)
- Gabby Giffords’ Recovery, and Beyond. (themoderatevoice.com)
- Gabrielle Giffords is chatting on telephone (telegraph.co.uk)
- Gabrielle Giffords’s Road to Recovery (newsweek.com)
- Intern: Giffords is now talking on phone – USA Today (news.google.com)
- Gabrielle Giffords Supporters Donate $358,000 To Her Re-Election Campaign (huffingtonpost.com)
- NASA chief: Having Rep. Giffords at space shuttle launch is ‘triumph of good over evil’ (thehill.com)
- Barack Obama on Gabrielle Giffords (time.com)
- Giffords ‘very pleased’ as Obama to attend shuttle launch (chron.com)
- Obamas will attend space shuttle launch (whitehouse.blogs.cnn.com)