Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Reportedly Smiles at Her Husband

Kelly says he would be willing to meet with Jared Loughner's parents.

January 16, 2011, 9:40 PM

Jan. 17, 2011— -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords smiles at her husband and has even given him a back rub, her doctors said today.

The tracheotomy tube in the throat of the badly wounded Arizona congresswoman prevents her from speaking to her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, but the doctors said the smiles were important indicators.

"It implies she is recognizing him, and that she's interacting perhaps with a more familiar way with him," Dr. Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon treating Giffords at University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., said at a news conference today.

The doctors reported that they performed surgery on Giffords' eye socket to remove bone fragments Saturday. Within a few hours of surgery, Lemole said, the congresswoman was "waking up and through the weekend came back to the same baseline as before" the procedure.

"At this time, we're hoping to continue tying up loose ends" to get ready for the third stage of Giffords' recovery, rehabilitation, Lemole said.

In his first interview since the tragic shootings at the Safeway in Tucson, Kelly opened up to ABC News' Diane Sawyer about the extraordinary progress his wife is making every day.

Giffords' condition was upgraded Sunday from critical to serious, a day after doctors replaced her breathing tube with a tracheotomy tube to allow her to breathe better and free her from the ventilator.

Kelly told Sawyer he can tell his wife recognizes him. "She stuck her hand up on the side of my face this morning," he said. "I'm pretty sure she wouldn't do that for somebody else."

Though her doctors say a full opthamologic examination will be required to determine how well she can see, their "suspicion is that she can see something," Lemole said.

She's not just reaching out for his face -- Kelly told Sawyer that his wife is now moving around enough to give him a back rub.

"[It is] so typical of her," Kelly said. "She's in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage.

"I keep telling her. I'm like, 'Gabby, you're in the ICU. You know, you don't need -- you know, you don't need to be doing this.' But it's so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she's looking out for other people."

Watch portions of Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview Tuesday on "Good Morning America," "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline." Watch the full interview on a special edition of "20/20," "The Congresswoman and the Astronaut: An American Story of Love and Strength," at 10 p.m. ET.

For Kelly, the gesture was not only a sign that Giffords is improving but that his wife's spirit and their personal bond is just as strong as it was before the shooting.

"I just stayed there because it seemed to comfort her," he said. "You know, when somebody needs to be doing that for her or needs to be doing something for her, you know, she was doing that for me."

Kelly has been by his wife's side since the shooting Jan. 8, rushing there from his home in Houston where he has been training for his role as commander of space shuttle Endeavour's final mission in April.

Kelly is a dedicated pilot but, for now, he has focused all his attention on wife's recovery, telling Sawyer that the progress of the past few days has been encouraging.

Long Road for Giffords

But Kelly is honest about the struggles his wife will face.

"Gabby's got a long road ahead of her," Kelly said. "We know that the recovery from these kind of injuries isn't measured in days and weeks. It's more like weeks and months. And so she's got a long, tough road ahead of her. But, you know, she's a really, really tough woman."

Kelly not only shared the latest on Giffords' recovery but took Sawyer back through those first painful hours after he learned of the shooting and shared moments from the emotional bedside vigil he has kept every since.

Kelly's and Giffords' story is a true love story; from meeting on a trip to China, to their first date at an Arizona state prison while Giffords worked on legislation about capital punishment.

Wanting to be with GIffords every moment, Kelly has barely left her side, sleeping at the hospital and holding a constant vigil of family and friends. He did attend Wednesday's memorial service with President and first lady Obama, as well as Thursday's funeral for Christina-Taylor Green, the youngest victim of the shooting rampage.

Kelly told Sawyer he has not followed much of the news surrounding the shooting or the investigation into suspect Jared Lee Loughner and his possible motives.

Kelly Open to Meeting Loughner Family

But when asked if Kelly would ever be willing to meet with Loughner's parents, he told Sawyer that he was open to the idea.

"I'd probably see them," he said. "I don't think it's their fault. It's not the parents' fault. I'd like to think I'm a person that's somewhat forgiving. And, I mean, they've got to be hurting in this situation as much as anybody.

Kelly himself is the father of two teenage girls from his first marriage, and told Sawyer that being a parent gives him a certain level of understanding.

"Gabby has two stepdaughters, and I have children," he said. "And ... I'm sure they love their son. And they must be as distraught over this as all of us are."

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