Giffords out of surgery

May 18, 2011 2:15:20 PM PDT
It has been an eventful week for Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Earlier this week, she flew to Florida to see her astronaut husband take off in the space shuttle, and on Wednesday she underwent surgery as part of her continuing recovery from an assassination attempt in January.

Immediately after she was shot, surgeons removed most of the left side of Giffords' skull to allow room for brain swelling. That area was covered only by skin and hair, which is why she had to wear a helmet.

Doctors say Wednesday's procedure to replace the missing skull is fairly routine.

"It's a very simple procedure. It's really done because we have to take the bone flap off. It's not really a procedure that means anything serious is going on. It's really just something that's a follow-up to finish up the treatment," said Dr. Claudia Robertson, a neurologist at Ben Taub Hospital.

For Wednesday's surgery, doctors placed a plastic implant over the section of skull damaged by the bullet. The piece was measured by computer to be an exact fit so it will cover the hole in her left skull. It's screwed to her skull and is placed under the scalp, which will allow hair to completely cover it.

Over the next several months, her skull bone will fuse to the plastic implant.

Doctors say recovery time is short, about a day or two at the most. They say recovery is mostly because of anesthesia side effects. The next step will be to release her from the hospital, where she will continue speech and physical therapy at an outpatient clinic.

Doctors caution that while Giffords has made remarkable progress, she still faces a very long recovery.

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