Gabrielle Giffords: Journey to Recovery

Recovery for Giffords will involve a team of rehab specialists.

ByABC News
January 20, 2011, 11:20 AM

Jan. 21, 2011— -- Surviving a bullet wound to the head was just the first step on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' long road to recovery. Now that her condition is stabilized, she will be transferred Friday to TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston for intensive physical and mental rehabilitation.

Though it has been less than two weeks since the Arizona congresswoman was shot, allegedly by Jared Loughner, 22, during the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six and injured 13, her fast progress has made this early transfer to a rehabilitation center possible.

To date, Giffords' recovery has been promising and she has responded consistently to commands, been awake and alert, scrolled through her iPad and even took a trip outside.

"She continues to do very well neurologically" and has made "fantastic advancements forward," he said, "but I want to caution everyone she has a long road ahead of her," Dr. Michael Lemole, one of the neurosurgeons treating Giffords at University Medical Center, said in a press conference Thursday.

Read George's Interview With Rep. Giffords' New Doctor on GEORGE'S BOTTOM LINE blog here.

TIRR was chosen, in part, for its proximity to Giffords' husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, who lives and works as an astronaut in Houston. With Giffords there, he will be able to "be there by her side as much as possible," Kelly told the press Thursday.

Kelly remains hopeful that his wife would make "a full recovery" and that "in two months, you'll see her walking through the front door of this building," he said at Thursday's press conference.

But a 100 percent recovery may not come for a while yet, if at all, rehabilitation experts caution, and as Giffords enters the rehabilitation stage, realistic expectations are an integral part of coping with the harrowing recovery process ahead both for the congresswoman and her loved ones.

What Rehab Will Look Like

In the weeks ahead at TIRR, Giffords' most likely will meet daily with a team of specialists, including speech, occupational and physical therapists, as well as a neuropsychologist who will evaluate and help rehabilitate her cognitive functioning, rehabilitation experts told

"In the hospital, people are focused on stabilizing you and keeping you alive," said Dr. Steve Williams, rehab chief at Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Medicine. "At a rehab center, we continue to do that but there's the added ability of really focusing on the functioning and cognitive ability. That she's going to rehab very quickly is a good sign that she's not having medical complications."

Patients of traumatic brain injury meet with a neuropsychologist who assesses cognitive functioning and helps the brain relearn.

"The idea is that we're supplying the right stimulus to the brain at the right time to allow recovery," said Dr. Roger Knakal, medical director of Rehabilitation at Fletcher Allen Hospital of Vermont. "The idle brain doesn't do much. We want to stimulate the brain and certainly want to have someone in intense rehab for that within the first 30 days."

The neuropsychologist will look at Giffords ability to think abstractly, do math and process complex thoughts, said Williams.

"Simple commands [that Giffords has been following] are very different from executive thought and abstract thinking, and a job like hers would require a very high level of abstract thinking," he adds.