Rep. Giffords office says she's coming to Houston

January 20, 2011 9:46:14 AM PST
Every day we hear of the progress being made by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she recovers from the brain injury she sustained during the shooting nearly two weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona. Now Giffords is headed to Houston to begin her rehabilitation.

A statement issued Wednesday by Giffords' office reads in part, "The congresswoman is expected to move Friday, Jan. 21 to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. But because this is a fluid situation, the exact day of the move will depend on the congresswoman's health."

The facility said Gabrielle Giffords is expected to begin the next phase of her recovery at Memorial Hermann's level one trauma center where she will be evaluated prior to being transferred to Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) Memorial Hermann.

"We anticipate that her time in the ICU will be brief and that she will move quickly toward a tailored and comprehensive rehab plan at TIRR Memorial Hermann," said Colonel (Retired, U.S. Army) John Holcomb, M.D., trauma surgeon at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

After a severe brain injury, rehabilitation is critical to get back your functions like speech and walking. And one of the best places in the country for rehab after brain injury is TIRR in the Texas Medical Center. That's where Katy Hays has been doing rehabilitation; she's the young Kingwood mother who lost her arms and legs to a flesh-eating disease.

For 21 years, TIRR has been ranked one of the top five rehabilitation hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

"I am extremely hopeful at the signs of recovery that my wife has made since the shooting," said Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. "Our goal -- has been to provide Gabby with the best care possible. It is for that reason that we have chosen to have her undergo rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann, which has a national reputation for treating serious penetrating brain injuries and is also in a community where I have family and a strong support network."

Kelly initially discussed the topic during his Monday interview with ABC13's Tom Koch:

    Mark Kelly: At some point the hospital environment will not be the place for her. She'll go from here to some sort of rehab.
    Tom Koch: Washington, Houston?
    Kelly: There are options, those and others. Most of the major cities in the country have reasonable place to go. She's going to go to one of the best centers in the country.

TIRR is also where Buffalo Bills football player Kevin Everett did rehab and where Houston surgeon Dr. Gene Alford did his rehabilitation on the Christopher Reeves treadmill. And Houston Police Officer Danny Vaughan learned to walk and talk again at TIRR. So the specialists at TIRR have a long history of helping people after brain injury to recover as much of their independence as possible.

A doctor at the University Medical Center in Arizona said they were also considering rehabilitation hospitals in Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago.

Kelly says support from around the world has been overwhelming and he asks all Americans for their continuing prayers.

Stay with Eyewitness News and for the latest on this story.

Doctor, patient explain what Rep. Giffords can expect at TIRR

The day that Danny Vaughan left TIRR, the Houston police officer had spent nine months recovering from being shot in the head and another two years as an outpatient. He understands what's ahead for Gabrielle Giffords.

"It's a lot of work; a lot of work. She's not gonna have a happy road ahead of her," said Vaughan.

Dr. Cindy Ivanhoe, a Baylor-UT rehabilitation specialist, was Vaughan's doctor. She was the director of TIRR's brain injury program for 10 years and is likely to be one of Giffords' doctors at TIRR.

"Brain injury medicine has to be done as a team. You need different therapists to work on different skills that our patients need to relearn. They can be very basic skills -- walking, talking, identifying your needs, or they can be higher level skills," said Dr. Ivanhoe.

She hasn't met Giffords, but has treated many gunshot wounds like hers.

"With gunshot wounds, there's often a problem with spacitity, muscle tightness; typically what people think of with a stroke victim," Dr. Ivanhoe said.

"It's very painful because your muscles all atrophy. They get tight on you, they get shriveled up and what they have to do, they have to stretch these muscles back into place, and when they do that it's extremely painful -- like pushing a rubber band as far as it can go before it pops," Vaughan said.

That's just one part of a brain injury.

"There can be problem with language, movement, speed of processing and there are different ways we will sort out all those details and how they are managed," said Dr. Ivanhoe.

But there is hope too. She says brain injury patients can continue to improve even decades later. Vaughan says the support of his parents, Gene and Joyce Vaughan and his sister Linda, were critical. And he knows that Giffords has family support too.

"She's gonna need your support, 100 percent support. Without my family, I don't think I would be here today," Vaughan said.

Dr. Ivanhoe emphasizes there is no set time to recovery. She says some families are told if there isn't improvement in six or 12 months, it won't happen. The doctor says she's seen patients improve 20 years later. She says that it depends on the injury, and if they continue with therapy.

In Vaughan's case, 17 years after his brain injury, he works out three or four times a week at the gym.