Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Stands on Both Feet, Looks Out Window

Husband Mark Kelly shares details on her health in exclusive interview with ABC.

January 19, 2011, 10:58 AM

Jan. 19, 2011— -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords stood on both feet with assistance and looked out a window, another milestone in her recovery after a gunman fired a bullet through her brain during an attack in Tucson, Ariz., 11 days ago, according to University Medical Center officials.

She soon will be moved to a hospital in Houston.

Giffords is expected to be transported Friday to the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Houston's Memorial Hermann hospital, which specializes in brain injuries, her office said today. The exact day of the move could change, depending on Giffords' condition.

The institute, also known as TIRR Memorial Hermann, is part of the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world. Giffords' office said in a statement that facilities across the country had been considered for her rehabilitation but TIRR was chosen because of its reputation and proximity to Tucson.

Her husband, astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, lives in Houston, where he trains at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The congresswoman is the last of the shooting victims remaining at Tucson's University Medical Center, the hospital said today.

Giffords' mother told friends and family Tuesday that her daughter was showing "higher levels of comprehension and complex actions," even flipping through photos on her husband's iPhone, according to an e-mail message obtained by the New York Times.

In a poignantly personal interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer that aired Tuesday night, Capt. Kelly opened up about his wife Gabrielle Giffords' recovery and the shooting that injured her and killed six people.

Kelly, who has been photographed by his wife's hospital bed holding her hand, said there is a habit of hers that has convinced him that she recognizes him.

"If I hold her hand, she'll play with my wedding ring," he said. "She'll move it up and down my finger. She'll take it off. ... She'll put it on her own finger. She'll move it to her thumb. And then she can put it back on my finger.

"The reason why I know that that means she recognizes me is because she's done that before. She'll do that if we're sitting in a restaurant. She'll do the same exact movements," he said.

Kelly was struck by Giffords' progress again when "she stuck her hand up on the side of my face" and began giving him a neck massage.

"She spent 10 minutes rubbing my neck and I keep telling her, 'Gabby, you're in the ICU. You know, you don't need to be doing this," he said with a chuckle.

Kelly added, "I'm pretty sure she wouldn't do that to somebody else. And she's looking me in the eye."

Nevertheless, he is still unsure about the extent of her eventual recovery.

"At times I'm 100 percent confident that she's going to make a 100 percent recovery," he told Sawyer. "And, you know, at other times I don't know."

Later Kelly said, "She's got a great sense of humor. I've thought about whether that part of her will be the same."

Kelly Monitors Giffords' Progress

Now in Tucson's University Hospital, Kelly is closely monitoring his wife's recovery, tackling every detail with the same focus he brings to his job as a space shuttle commander. In the first days after the attack, he slept in the hospital and only recently has begun to stay in a hotel across the street.

Although the couple owns a condo two miles away from the hospital, Kelly prefers to be as close as possible to his wife's bedside, where he tells her he loves her and reads out loud some of the thousands of supportive letters and e-mails that have flooded in since the attack.

So far, doctors say, Giffords' recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. She was removed from a ventilator Saturday and her condition was upgraded Monday to serious from critical.

Doctors have inserted a tracheotomy tube in her throat to help her breathe and put a feeding tube in her stomach.

While his wife has yet to speak or hint at how much she understands, Kelly has witnessed Giffords following instructions, like a command to hold up two fingers.

The hopeful emotions were a world away from what was going through his mind a week and half ago when Kelly was in Houston and got a phone call from one of his wife's staffers, telling him his "Gabby" had been shot. He had spoken to his wife 30 minutes before.

"I picked up the phone and she says, 'I don't know how to tell you about this, but I just received a call ... and Gabby's been shot,'" Kelly told Sawyer. "I said, 'Well, that's, you know, that's not possible. Are you sure?'"

With no other information, Kelly ended the conversation and hung up his cell phone. He had to look at the phone's call history to make sure he hadn't imagined the news. He told his children -- Giffords' stepdaughters -- and then called Giffords' parents and his own. Then, there was one thought in his head.

"[I] quickly had to figure out how I'm going to get there very, you know, very fast," Kelly said.

On board a friend's private plane rushing him and his family to his wife's side, Kelly was desperate for updates from the ground. He watched live television reports which erroneously declared that Giffords had lost her life, mourning the loss for 20 crushing minutes.

"The kids ... Claudia and Claire start crying. My mother, you know ... I think she almost screamed. And I just, you know, walked into the bathroom, and you know, broke down," Kelly, an astronaut, told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview. "To hear that she died is just, it's devastating for me."

For Kelly, it was the worst moment in a nightmarish day. Calling from the plane, Kelly learned the truth from people who were with Giffords at the hospital -- that his wife had not died, but she was fighting for her life.

By the time Kelly arrived in Tucson's University Hospital, the initial shock had worn off and another emotion had set in -- anger.

"I was really angry for two to three days. Very, very angry," Kelly said. "The first call I received after I arrived at the hospital was President Obama, and I expressed to him ... how angry I was."

"Whom did you blame?" Sawyer asked.

"Initially, I was upset because she'd, you know, received death threats before," Kelly said, adding that he felt it was "just part of what we've been dealing with for the last year."

He said they had talked "dozens of times" about how "risky" Giffords' job was.

"She says, you know, 'Someday I'm really worried that somebody's going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun,'" Kelly said.

Sawyer asked, "Do you still think the climate in this country had anything to do with it?"

"I don't. It certainly didn't cause this," Kelly said. "It didn't cause Jared Loughner to, you know, to plan this attack. ... I think you have somebody that's really, really disturbed, possibly schizophrenic."

Capt. Kelly admitted to Sawyer that he had been worried about his wife's safety in the past and that the two of them had discussed the death threats Giffords had received. "She's had death threats," he said. "As a lot of members of Congress have death threats. She's had them before."

Giffords has shared her own fears with her husband, telling him, "Someday, I'm really worried that somebody's going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun."

It was not an everyday fear but it was something that Giffords and Kelly took seriously enough to discuss a handful of times, he said.

When asked if he would ever be willing to meet with Loughner's parents, Kelly 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 said that when Giffords does begin to speak, they have plenty to talk about. One of the "hardest things," he said, will be having to tell her about the six people who died in the attack, including one of her dedicated staffers, Gabe Zimmerman, and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green.

"I was at her funeral the other day," Kelly said. "For a 9-year-old girl to die, you know, just because she was interested in democracy? I mean, it's just not fair."

In the hospital's ICU, Kelly has also comforted Susan Heilman, the woman who brought Green to the supermarket and was also injured in the attack. He said Heilman spoke to Green seconds before the shoo0ting began.

"She leaned down next to her and said, 'You know, someday, you know, you could grow up and be like Gabrielle Giffords.' And those were the last words she heard," Kelly said. "I mean, you just can't explain it."

Capt. Kelly is also facing the question of his own future; whether he will be the commander of the final space shuttle mission April 19, known as STS-134.

His crew sent a supportive tweet this weekend, saying, "Gabby is improving. Mark is strong ... STS134 will succeed."

Whatever the final decision, Kelly's heart will be right there with his wife.

Inside his wife's wedding ring, he had a message inscribed -- "You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been."

Giffords and Kelly will also have to decide whether she'll resume her work.

Sawyer asked, "Do you want her to go back into Congress after this?"

"That's a tough, tough decision. Probably not," Kelly said. "But I know that's probably not going to matter to her. I think she's such a devoted public servant that she's going to come out of this and be more resolved to fix things, to make things better for people."

Kelly has made sure to keep track of every gift, every message, every act of generosity from the people of Tucson, knowing that his wife will want to handwrite thank you letters.

"You know, she has Tombstone, Arizona in her district ... the town that's too tough to die," Kelly told Sawyer. "Gabrielle Giffords is too tough to let this beat her."

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