President Obama’s dramatic news at last night’s memorial service in Tucson that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ has just minutes before opened her left eye for the first time since the shooting has created some confusion in light of news from doctors that Giffords “could open her eyes” on Sunday.
But doctors today provided a simple explanation: Wednesday was the first time Giffords opened her eyes on her own, which Giffords' neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole Thursday called “a major milestone.”
“When we examine patients, particularly in this state we have to ‘wake them up,’ give them some stimulus, and with that stimulus they might crack their eyes,” Lemole said today. “That’s very different from speaking to someone and having them open their eyes, or having them open their eyes spontaneously in response to familiarity.”
“Eyes” in the case of Giffords is actually just “eye” since her right eye is bandaged.
On Wednesday evening at the memorial service, President Obama said “I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I want to tell you, her husband Mark is here and he allows me to share this with you – right after we went to visit – a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from Congress were in the room — Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes. Gabby opened her eyes so I can tell you she knows we are here, she knows that we love her and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly what will be a difficult journey.”
The president’s remarks were meant, the White House says, to convey that she had opened her eyes on her own for the first time.
On January 9, Giffords’ doctors told reporters that on Sunday Giffords could open her eyes. Today they clarified that they meant she could open her eye in response to stimuli.
Doctors told the ABC News’ Medical Unit that the news reported Wednesday is significant but should not be overstated.
“Eye opening is a great sign, but it's to be expected in anyone who's already been shown to follow commands,” said Dr. Joshua Bederson, Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “In that regard it’s not ‘a miracle,’ but the fact that she is doing so well after a point blank gun shot wound to the head is in fact a miracle.”
Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz recounted to reporters their experience at the hospital earlier last night when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes for the first time. See the video here.