- Associated Press - Thursday, January 13, 2011

TUCSON, ARIZ. (AP) - It looks like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is one of the lucky ones.

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

Yet doctors have reported the critically injured woman has been making steady progress each day since she was wounded last weekend.

Then Wednesday night _ with her closest friends from Congress holding her hand _ Giffords opened her eyes for the first time.

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

If all goes well, Giffords may be “out of the woods” on Friday, said Dr. Peter Rhee, trauma chief at University Medical Center, who has treated soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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 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 even as they cautioned about a long and uncertain path to recovery. There was a glimmer of hope early on: Giffords was able to squeeze a doctor’s hand in the emergency room.

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

Giffords‘ condition was unchanged Monday, which doctors took as a good sign. There was no further brain swelling. She could raise two fingers of her left hand and even flashed a thumbs-up, doctors reported.

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. Rhee said he was “101 percent” sure she’d pull through.

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

As her sedation was scaled back, Giffords became more alert and moved on her own _ touching her wounds and fixing her hospital gown. She even scratched her nose, Lemole said.

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