Gabrielle Giffords Could Be Released From ICU as Early as This Week

Brain fluid that concerned doctors has started to subside.

ByABC News
January 25, 2011, 11:43 AM

Jan. 25, 2011 — -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords may be released from ICU as soon as this week, ABC News has learned.

The fluid accumulation in her brain that concerned doctors over the weekend has already begun to subside.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday's State of the Union address, members of both political parties were wearing black and white ribbons in a show of solidarity with Giffords and the people of Tucson. In a special gesture, her friends in Congress left one seat unfilled.

"There is going to be a chair left empty to symbolize what we all know will be a triumphant return to the House of Representatives when she comes back to us full strength," said Giffords' friend and colleague, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

In Houston, Giffords' husband, NASA Commander Mark Kelly, watched tonight's State of the Union Address from his wife's bedside at the hospital. While he keeps watch over her care, the clock is ticking on a critical decision. Kelly has said he will decide within two weeks whether he will command the space shuttle Endeavor's final mission in April.

"Obviously, Mark has trained with this crew for over a year, and so he is the ideal person," NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson said.

Over the weekend, doctors inserted a small drain in Giffords' skull to remove the brain fluid that had delayed her transfer out of ICU. Experts say it is not uncommon for someone suffering a traumatic brain injury to have such fluid accumulation, caused when the brain bleeds or swells.

"Pressure built up perhaps too quickly for the brain to accommodate," said Dr. Jonathan Fellus, who specializes in brain injury at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey. Fellus said that when left untreated, fluid can be deadly for brain injury patients.

Giffords' doctors have expressed confidence that she has passed the most critical period for complications and say that the fluid is not keeping Giffords from receiving three hours of physical therapy a day.

Giffords' trauma surgeon, Dr. John Holcomb, said in recent days that the fluid buildup, which doesn't appear to be infected, was down a little on Saturday and that Giffords was a little more alert and responsive.

Giffords was brought by a specially equipped private plane from Tucson to Houston's Hobby Airport last Friday, and immediately was transported to the Texas Medical Center's intensive care unit by medical helicopter. She will eventually be treated at nearby TIRR Memorial Hermann.