Giffords in Critical Condition, But Able to Breathe

Experts urge patience for the recovery of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a gunshot wound to the head.

Surgeons tending to US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) reported this morning that although she is in critical condition, the congresswoman is able to breathe on her own. A second update this afternoon reported more signs of improvement.

Physicians observed Giffords making precise, spontaneous movements, such as adjusting her gown and touching her wounds. The bullet that was fired Saturday by a lone gunman pierced her skull and entered her brain, causing levels of damage that remain unclear.

“I’m happy to say she’s holding her own. Her status is the same as it was yesterday,” said neurosurgeon G. Michael Lemole, Jr., MD, who performed surgery on Giffords. Dr. Lemole and colleagues have been able to scale back the sedatives she was receiving. In addition to the movements, she is able to respond to simple commands.

Although Giffords is able to generate her own breaths, physicians will continue using a breathing tube to protect her from potential infection. Dr. Lemole said he is “encouraged” by her current condition, and that “she has no right to look this good.”

A group of experts who consulted on Giffords’ case believe the bullet entered her skull from the front, traversed the left hemisphere of her brain, and exited out the back. They expect some permanent damage, but are hopeful that she will retain the ability to walk and talk normally.

James M. Ecklund, MD, medical director of neurosiences and neurosurgery at Inova Health System and chairman of the Department of Neurosciences at Inova Fairfax Hospital, attributes her survival to the care she has received at the University of Arizona. “Everything we've seen reflects the highest quality care,” Dr. Ecklund said.