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People can return successfully to high-profile jobs after serious brain injuries. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., suffered a brain hemorrhage in December 2006 and returned to the Senate the following fall. His speech was a bit slurred, and sometimes he used a scooter to get around. He later won re-election and chairs the Banking Committee.

Grafman says patients must adapt to lingering impairments, with the help of families who are best able to tell if they’re making good judgments. For Giffords, a supportive congressional staff can do a lot of the work. But at some point, he noted, “people are going to ask hard questions. How is she going to handle them?”

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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.