Gabrielle Giffords' Nurse: 'She Smiles, She Knows' That She's Lucky

Nurse Tracy Culbert has been by Giffords' side since Tucson shooting.

Jan. 26, 2011 — -- Last night's State of the Union turned poignant with a standing ovation for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the team of heroes that helped save her life.

"As we mark this occasion, we are also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and pray for the health of our colleague - and our friend - Gabby Giffords," President Obama said.

In the chamber was trauma nurse Tracy Culbert. She's been by Giffords' side since the day of the shooting. Seeing the empty chair that signified Giffords' absence made Culbert emotional.

"I have a personal connection with her and so it was very tearful for me. It shows how much they care for her and they're wanting her back and so that chair represents the fact that she's going to be back one day," Culbert said.

Culbert attended the State of the Union address at the request of members of Giffords' staff.

"To have this gift extended to me, I am so gracious, I can't even explain how grateful I am to Mark Kelly and the Giffords family. I'm very honored, very honored," Culbert said.

When Giffords was moved from Tucson's University Medical Center to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston last week, Culbert was right there, by her side.

The nurse said that even while in a hospital bed recovering from a brain injury, Giffords consoles and cares for those around her.

One day, Culbert was sitting by Giffords' side, holding her hand and talking to her. Culbert was wearing a necklace she wears often. The charm on the necklace is a thumbprint of her late father. Giffords reached up and took a hold of the necklace, motioning that she wanted to know the meaning of it.

"I started getting some tears in my eyes and she reached up to my shoulder and she was stroking my shoulder and tried to pull me forward like to hug me. And I told her, 'I'm going to cry Gabby, you're going to make me cry.' She was patting my back, like it's going to be ok," Culbert said.

Culbert said that the optimism and support of Giffords' family has made a difference in her remarkable recovery. She said that Giffords' mother, father and husband are by her side every day.

"I just see the look of her in her father's eyes, just he loves her so much," Culbert said. "I've explained to her that she's a very lucky woman to have all of the support that she's had, especially Mark [Kelly] and her parents. She smiles, she knows."

Mark Kelly's Optimism Will Get Giffords Through Recovery

Doctors and nurses call Commander Mark Kelly, Giffords' astronaut husband, an eternal optimist.

"He has only positive things to say...I think that power will get her through so much. He's quite an amazing man," Culbert said.

Kelly was invited to attend the speech, but chose to stay with his wife in Houston. Wearing the black and white ribbon meant to symbolize the Tucson tragedy, he watched from Giffords' hospital room.

"Her husband provides much optimism. That is the one thing he is very good at. I played the pessimist a couple times with him and he didn't want to hear it. He convinced me that every day is a small step forward," Dr. Randall Friese said.

Friese treated Giffords when she first reached the hospital in Houston. He too attended last night's speech. Friese said that the news that Giffords has been upgraded to good condition is positive, but that she still has a tough journey ahead of her.

"She does have a long road ahead, a lot of hard work. Rehab is about determination, focus, and exhausting days, but again, she has been very strong," Friese said.