- Associated Press - Thursday, June 16, 2011

HOUSTON — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has moved into her husband’s suburban Houston home, beginning a new phase in her recovery that will allow her to blend daily trips to the hospital with a more routine family life.

Giffords‘ departure Wednesday from Houston’s TIRR Memorial Hermann indicates she has made enough progress in her recovery from a devastating gunshot wound to be released from the hospital. But she still has a long, arduous journey ahead of her.

She struggles to speak and walk, and will continue daily, intensive therapy for months, and possibly years. Whether she will ever recover enough to resume her congressional duties is still unknown.

Yet doctors, her astronaut husband Mark Kelly and experts who have been observing Giffords‘ recovery emphasize that going home is a key milestone and could help stimulate her progress.

“Anyone who knows Gabby knows that she loves being outside,” Kelly said in a statement released by the hospital. “Living and working in a rehab facility for five months straight has been especially challenging for her.”

Giffords will still go to the hospital each day where she will participate in speech, music, physical and occupational therapy with the same team that has treated her since she arrived in Houston in late January.

Now, however, at the end of each day “she will be with her family,” Kelly said.

The congresswoman will move to Kelly’s home in League City, a suburb near the Johnson Space Center, where she will have 24-hour help from a home care assistant.

The 41-year-old was shot in the left side of the brain, the part that controls speech and communication, on Jan. 8 while meeting with constituents in Tucson. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the attack, including the lawmaker and members of her staff.

Her release from the hospital was met with excitement.

“When I went home from the hospital after surgery, I was so nervous, but boy it’s wonderful to be home in your own surroundings, to be able to have things on your own schedule,” said Ron Barber, a staffer who also survived the shooting.

“I’m sure it’ll be uplifting and healing for her, too,” he said.

Jordan Grafman, director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Research Laboratory at the Kessler Foundation Research Center in West Orange, N.J., said being around family often motivates patients. He warned, however, that the congresswoman is far from healed and has a lifetime of recovery ahead of her.

“Often, you can do many things for yourself but not everything, that’s not unusual after a severe traumatic brain injury,” Grafman said, explaining why she would need professional help at home. “It’s not unusual to be released before complete independence and you may never achieve complete independence”

Giffords‘ Chief of Staff Pia Carusone recently gave the first clear indication of how slowly Giffords is recovering. After months of optimistic, rosy reports from Giffords‘ doctors, staff and family, Carusone said that while the congresswoman can speak, she struggles to express complex thoughts and sentences.

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