Gabrielle Giffords: Journey to Recovery


In order to assist Giffords brain in relearning, Williams said it's possible that doctors will give her cognitive stimulants such as Ritalin, to increase focus, attention, and concentration.

Getting Giffords to communicate will also be a top priority, said Lyn Turkstra, associate professor of communicative disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"For someone with the type of injury she has, it's so important to get her communicating" so that her language abilities can be assessed, she said.

Considering Giffords has a tracheotomy tube in her throat that makes speech impossible, doctors may try to swap in a valve that would allow her to speak, Turkstra said.

Getting the Body Back on Board

Physical therapy also will become more intense at the rehab center. At University Medical Center, Giffords already has begun physical therapy, dangling her legs over the side of the bed and sitting in a chair for periods of time. Once at TIRR, Giffords will begin more intensive, tailored therapy, said Williams.

A physical therapist will work on general strength, mobility and balance, he said, while an occupational therapist will be more concerned with her ability to perform daily tasks, such as grooming and feeding herself.

Coping With the Long Process for Patient and Family

While the rehabilitation process will be a long and exhausting process, one of the most challenging aspects of rehab for both the patient and their family is accepting the pace of recovery, rehabilitation experts say.

"I think one of the biggest challenges for the family is knowing what is good progress," Turkstra said. "You want this person to be back to themselves in a week, like you see on T.V., but a lot of rehab is figuring out that they may not ever be completely back and learning to accept the new version of your loved one."

Those with frontal lobe injuries, such as Giffords', can also have personality changes, Williams said. They may be "disinhibited and say things they wouldn't say before or have inappropriate actions or reactions to circumstances."

Even when recovered, many with brain injuries will be "either pretty happy or pretty sad and that's different from the normal wavering between moods that you find in people," he added.

But having loved ones present throughout the recovery process is integral to the patient's progress, Knakal said.

"Family involvement is very, very important," he said. "I [as a doctor] am a stranger to the patient when they come in. Family is going to be a familiar, stabilizing force for that patient."

For Giffords, the familiar presence of her husband and her friends already has proven an incredible asset in her recovery. It was during the first visit from close friends Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, R-Fla., that Giffords first voluntarily opened her eyes and began reaching out to hold Kelly.

Giffords also will do things for Kelly, like pat him affectionately on the face, that she won't do when he is not there, Kelly told the press Thursday.

"She'll smile at me and I can just look in her eyes and tell ... she's very aware of the situation," he said. "I'm extremely confident that she's going to be back."

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