Doctors: Giffords doing well after surgery

Doctors provide an update on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

May 19, 2011 10:59:42 AM PDT
A day after surgery to repair her skull, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' doctor has dubbed her "gorgeous Gabby," encouraged by how she looks and is communicating after an operation considered a major milestone in her recovery from a gunshot wound.

Giffords had some pain and nausea shortly after the surgery, but a scan of her brain showed it was successful, said Dr. Dong Kim, the neurosurgeon who performed the intricate, three-and-a-half-hour operation.

She's doing so well that doctors are beginning bedside rehabilitation therapy, and say she's on the path to being released, although they won't discuss a timetable.

"I started calling her gorgeous Gabby today," Kim said at a hospital news conference Thursday. "She hasn't looked in the mirror yet, but as soon as she does she'll be very pleased."

Doctors had to remove a piece of the congresswoman's skull to allow for her brain to swell after she was shot in the head four months ago at a political meet-and-greet in Tucson, Ariz.

To replace the missing bone, Kim attached a piece of molded hard plastic with tiny screws. The implant will allow her to remove a cumbersome helmet she has had to wear since the shooting to protect her head from further injury.

There are still some remaining bullet fragments in Giffords' brain that will not be removed because doing so could make her condition worse, Kim said.

Giffords also had a permanent shunt placed in the skin behind her ear to drain spinal fluid from her brain and into her abdomen, Kim said. It will relieve pressure from fluids that often build up in patients with a brain injury, but it's not visible and many patients forget they have one, doctors said.

The surgery carries a 5 to 10 percent risk of infection, Kim said.

Once Giffords returns to TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston from the nearby Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center where she underwent the surgery, the shunt and the skull surgery will further help her recovery.

"We're optimistic that when she comes back we'll see a lot of changes that will allow us to upgrade the rehabilitation," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the head of Giffords' rehabilitation team.

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