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“Her words are back more and more now, but she’s still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing,” Carusone told the Arizona Republic.

“Add it all together, and she’s able to express the basics of what she wants or needs,” Carusone said. “But when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that’s where she’s had the trouble.”

Better news came on Sunday, when the first pictures of Giffords since the shooting were posted on her Facebook page. Although wearing glasses and sporting shorter, darker hair, there were few indications she had been injured, let alone shot in the forehead.

One image showed her smiling broadly and looking straight at the camera. In another, more candid shot, she is grinning alongside her mother. In both, her trademark smile is largely unchanged.

The pictures were taken shortly after Giffords‘ returned from Florida in May, where she traveled to watch Kelly command the space shuttle Endeavour’s last mission. After that, while Kelly was still far from Earth at the International Space Station, she underwent surgery to replace a piece of her skull that was removed shortly after the shooting to allow her brain to swell. Until the surgery, she wore a helmet to protect her head.

“Gabby has recovered well from the surgery,” neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim said Wednesday. “Her wounds have healed, she has resumed full physical therapy without a helmet, and I am comfortable that she can be discharged.”

Kelly returned June 1 from his 16-day shuttle mission, and is now home to be with his wife.

The couple met in 2003 during a young leaders’ forum in China, then married in 2007 in Tucson. Giffords divided her time between Washington, D.C., and Arizona, while Kelly remained in Houston.

The two saw each other whenever and wherever they could.

A judge has declared shooting suspect Jared Loughner mentally incapable of participating in his defense and sent him to a federal facility where doctors will try to treat his condition and make it possible to put him on trial.

With an open Senate seat in Arizona, some Democrats had viewed Giffords as one of their best hopes for winning it, before the Jan. 8 shooting threw her political future into question.

The shooting has created something of a vacuum, with few candidates willing to declare their interest until Giffords‘ situation is clarified. Carusone has only said that the congresswoman has until May 2012 to decide.

Barber said he hopes she’ll return to Tucson soon.

“This is just one of the next really major steps toward her recovery,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll count this as another step just as we all do.”

Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix contributed to this report.