Gabrielle Giffords improving steadily but faces surgery to have previously removed piece of skull reattached

March 11, 2011

[ChattahBox] – In the latest stage of her remarkable improvement since the assassination attempt on January 8th, Doctors say U.S Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is now walking and forming whole sentences.

While describing her condition as improving in “leaps and bounds,” Doctors at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, based at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas say it’s not yet known if Ms. Giffords will be able to attend the launch of the Space Shuttle captained by her husband, which is scheduled for April.

But though her memory is returning she still does not remember the grim day in January which killed six people and wounded thirteen.

And Doctors are now preparing for another major step – replacing part of her skull which surgeons in Tucson removed after the shooting to minimize the effects of swelling. Known as a ‘cranioplasty’ the procedure is low-risk and is seen as a significant milestone in a patient’s recovery.

“It means the swelling has subsided to a point you can put the skull back in,” Dr. Michael Lemole Jr., a neurosurgeon at University Medical Center in Tucson tells USA Today.

If the skull is left intact after violent trauma this can exacerbate swelling and bring on a stroke. To avoid such risk almost half of the left side of Ms. Giffords’ skull was removed. This segment was then placed in a sterile container and frozen and the Congresswoman has worn a custom-made helmet to protect her brain.

“There is an optimal period for this procedure,” says Dr. Dong Kim of TIFF’s Neuroscience Institute. “Our patients look forward to having the bone put back. Nobody wants to leave it out for the long term.”

Since being transferred to Houston on January 21st Ms. Giffords has undergone intense physical, occupational and speech therapy. The cranioplasty has yet to be scheduled but in their first update since her arrival Doctors will issue a comprehensive report on Ms. Giffords’ condition at a news conference later today.

Meanwhile the case against her alleged attacker, Jared Loughner continues to grow; Yesterday the 22-year old Arizona native entered a plea of not guilty to 49 new charges stemming from the Tuscon attack.

Most of these charges relate to causing the death of a federal employee [Federal Judge John Roll,] injuring or causing death at a federally protected activity and use of a firearm to commit a violent crime.

If convicted, Mr. Loughner could face the death penalty.


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