- Associated Press - Thursday, January 13, 2011

TUCSON, ARIZ. (AP) - Gabrielle Giffords has made a “major leap forward” in her recovery progress, opening both eyes and moving her legs and arms, her doctors said Thursday.

The Arizona congresswoman remains in critical condition after being shot in the head Saturday. Few people who take a bullet to the brain _ just 10 percent _ survive such a devastating wound.

With her closest friends from Congress holding her hand Wednesday evening, Giffords opened her unbandaged left eye and tried to focus on loved ones for the first time.

“This is a major leap forward. This is a major milestone for her and we’re hoping that she crosses through many more,” said her neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was present for the eye opening, said: “It was raw courage. It was raw strength. It was so beautiful and so moving.”

Doctors have also helped Giffords sit up and dangle her legs from her bed. She’s able to open her right eye, even though it’s bandaged.

The next milestone will be removing her breathing tube, and perhaps have her sit in a chair on Friday, said Dr. Peter Rhee, trauma chief at University Medical Center, who has treated soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Doctors want to make sure Giffords doesn’t regress and are watching for pneumonia and blood clots.

It’s a far cry from last week, when a shocked nation braced for the worst for the 40-year-old Arizona congresswoman. Several news outlets erroneously declared her dead soon after the shooting rampage that killed six. Stunned by the day’s events, crowds held candlelight vigils outside the hospital and Giffords‘ Tucson office.

After her surgery, Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general and family friend who looked at Giffords‘ brain scans, gave a bleak outlook.

“With guarded optimism, I hope she will survive, but this is a very devastating wound,” he said.

But as the days ticked by, doctors shared signs of improvement. There was a glimmer of hope early on: Giffords was able to squeeze a doctor’s hand in the emergency room.

By Sunday, Lemole said he was “cautiously optimistic” about her survival. She could follow basic commands when they briefly eased up on her sedation.

Doctors were encouraged Monday that there was no further brain swelling, and Giffords could raise two fingers of her left hand and even flashed a thumbs-up.

The following day, doctors said Giffords was breathing on her own, but still connected to a respirator as a precaution. She was also moving both arms. Doctors gave their most confident prognosis yet: She will survive.

“She has no right to look this good and she does,” Lemole said.

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