At congresswoman’s bedside, good news keeps coming

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Even Rep. Gabrielle Giffords‘ doctors are starting to call her recovery a miracle.

Few people who take a bullet to the brain — just 10 percent — survive such a devastating wound.

Yet doctors say the critically injured congresswoman has been making steady progress each day since the assassination attempt on Saturday. Six people were shot and killed.

Mrs. Giffords is moving both legs and both arms, has opened both eyes and is responding to friends and family, doctors said Thursday. They’ve helped her sit up and dangle her legs from the bed, and she is able to lift her legs.

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

“It was raw courage. It was raw strength. It was so beautiful and so moving,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat. “She wanted us to know that she was with us a hundred percent and understood everything we were saying.”

Mrs. Giffords‘ neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole, called it “a major milestone,” and said the congresswoman was clearly responding to the gathering of friends and family.

After five days of pushing for caution, Dr. Lemole said: “We’re wise to acknowledge miracles.”

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 Mrs. Giffords doesn’t regress and are watching for pneumonia and blood clots.

It’s a far cry from Saturday 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 Mrs. Giffords‘ Tucson office.

After her surgery, Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general and family friend who looked at Mrs. 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: Mrs. Giffords was able to squeeze a doctor’s hand in the emergency room.

By Sunday, Dr. 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 Mrs. Giffords could raise two fingers of her left hand and even flashed a thumbs-up.

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