- Associated Press - Friday, January 21, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords smiled inside an ambulance as she heard applause during a dramatic send-off from her hometown Friday, and doctors say her transfer by jet and helicopter to a hospital in Houston went flawlessly.

Throngs of sign-carrying well-wishers lined the streets in Tucson to wave and cheer.

“She responded very well to that _ smiling and even tearing a little bit,” said Dr. Randall Friese, a surgeon at the University Medical Center trauma center in Tucson. “It was very emotional and very special.”

Friese and Giffords‘ doctors in Houston spoke Friday afternoon at a news conference at Texas Medical Center. Doctors say Giffords has a drain in her brain because of a fluid buildup, so she will stay for now in the ICU because of the risk of infection. Parts of her skull were removed after she was shot in the forehead, and they have not yet been replaced, so Giffords is wearing a specially made helmet to protect her brain.

It will be at least next week before she is moved to the center’s TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital, and she faces months of rigorous therapy.

Doctors say she’ll have her first rehab session in the ICU Friday afternoon.

“She looks spectacular,” said Dr. Dong Kim, neurosurgery chief at UTHealth.

A gunman shot Giffords and 18 other people Jan. 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died; all other survivors have been released from the hospital. The suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, is being held in federal custody.

Giffords has been making progress nearly every day at University Medical Center in Tucson. Her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, tweeted Friday: “GG going to next phase of her recover today. Very grateful to the docs and nurses at UMC, Tucson PD, Sheriffs Dept….Back in Tucson ASAP!”

Kelly traveled with Giffords, along with her mother, a doctor and other medical workers. She napped as a specially outfitted jet took her to Houston, then a helicopter took her from the Houston airport to the ICU at Texas Medical Center, where she’ll be evaluated before going to the center’s rehabilitation hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann. U.S. Capitol police arrived Thursday afternoon to set up extra security measures at the 119-bed facility.

Despite the steady progress, doctors warn Giffords has a long road to recovery. Doctors are not sure what, if any, disability she will have.

She moves her lips, but it’s not clear whether she is mouthing words, nor how much she is able to see.

“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 Giffords‘ home for the next month or two.

Dr. Gerard Francisco, the hospital’s chief medical officer, will coordinate her care.

“It’s going to be a very big team that will address different impairments, but they will have to work together,” he said.

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