- Associated Press - Thursday, January 20, 2011

TUCSON, ARIZ. (AP) - Gabrielle Giffords on Thursday felt the sunshine on her face for the first time since she was shot, as doctors prepared her to leave behind the Arizona hospital where she dazzled them with her rapid recovery.

Her next stop will be a Houston rehab center, where she will face an even more arduous task: Getting life back to normal.

Her husband said he’s hoping she’ll make a full recovery, calling her “a fighter like nobody else that I know.”

The doctors who will help her offered a more sober outlook.

“Not everyone always gets 100 percent restoration, but we help them to get to a new normal,” said Carl Josehart, chief executive of the rehab hospital that will be the Arizona congresswoman’s home for the next month or two.

Giffords is recovering from a bullet wound to the brain, but has been making progress nearly everyday.

Late Thursday, trauma surgeon, Dr. Peter Rhee, said staff at University Medical Center in Tucson helped Giffords stand and get into a wheelchair. She also did more physical therapy and they took her to a deck at the hospital, where she breathed in the fresh air and felt the sun.

“I saw the biggest smile she could gather,” Rhee said, noting that Giffords loves the outdoors.

“We are very happy to have her enjoying the sunshine of Arizona,” he said.

Earlier, doctors ticked off other markers of her continuing improvement: She scrolled through an iPad, picked out different colored objects and moved her lips. They are unsure whether she is mouthing words, nor do they know how much she is able to see.

Her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, believes she has tried to speak and can recognize those around her.

“I can just look in her eyes and tell,” Kelly said at a final briefing at the Tucson hospital. “She is very aware of the situation.”

Giffords is expected to be moved on Friday morning, traveling by ambulance to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base with an escort from a group of motorcycle riders from a Veterans of Foreign Wars post who know her.

Kelly; Rhee; Giffords‘ mother, Gloria; an intensive care unit nurse and Giffords‘ chief of staff will be among those on the medical flight to William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.

From there, she will be moved by helicopter to TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital. U.S. Capitol police arrived Thursday afternoon to set up extra security measures at the 119-bed facility that is part of the massive Texas Medical Center complex.

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