HOUSTON (AP) - Doctors repaired Gabrielle Giffords‘ skull on Wednesday, the latest milestone in her recovery from an assassination attempt and a procedure that experts say will improve her quality of life.
A gunman shot her in the head more than four months ago in Tucson, Ariz., and doctors had to remove a portion of her skull to relieve pressure on her brain.
On Wednesday, they put a plastic implant in place to fully cover her brain, according to a statement from TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital. The hospital planned a briefing on Thursday to give an update on her medical condition and discuss the next steps in her rehabilitation.
Giffords is “recovering well after her surgery today,” a hospital statement said.
Doctors familiar with the procedure and not involved in her care said it was fairly routine, will significantly improve her quality of life and help her feel more normal.
“It’s a very significant milestone in the recovery,” said Dr. Robert Friedlander, chair of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The implant _ or bone flap as doctors call it _ will protect the brain and the skull, Friedlander said. It will allow Giffords to freely move about without her helmet, adorned with the Arizona state flag, for the first time since she began therapy in late January.
In addition, it makes therapy easier because the helmet can be uncomfortable and cumbersome, Friedlander said.
Dr. Reid Thompson, chairman of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said there is also an important psychological element to removing the helmet.
“They look in the mirror and they don’t see someone who’s been injured or shot. They look normal,” Thompson said.
The flap itself is custom made, manufactured to slip perfectly into place based on a three-dimensional model of the skull built from a CT image, Thompson said. Usually, the implant is made of clear or white plastic, and tightened into place with titanium screws.
Bill Kolter, a spokesman for Biomet, the manufacturer of Gifffords’ implants, said the material is porous to allow bone to fuse to the edges of the object in the future.
“She’ll look like everyone and when walking down the street you wouldn’t know.” Thompson said.