TUCSON, Ariz. — Gabrielle Giffords on Thursday felt the sunshine on her face for the first time since she was shot Jan. 8, as doctors prepared her to leave behind the Arizona hospital where she dazzled them with her rapid recovery.
Her next stop will be a Houston rehab center, where she will face an even more arduous task: Getting life back to normal. Her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, said he's hoping she'll make a full recovery, calling her "a fighter like nobody else that I know."
The doctors who will help her offered a more sober outlook. "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 the Arizona congresswoman's home for the next month or two.
Giffords is recovering from a bullet wound to the brain, but has been making progress nearly every day. Late Thursday, trauma surgeon Dr. Peter Rhee said staff at University Medical Center in Tucson helped Giffords stand and get into a wheelchair. They then took her to a deck at the hospital, where she breathed in the fresh air and felt the sun. "I saw the biggest smile she could gather," Rhee said, noting that Giffords loves the outdoors. "We are very happy to have her enjoying the sunshine of Arizona.''
Earlier, doctors ticked off other markers of her improvement: She scrolled through an iPad, picked out different colored objects and moved her lips. They are unsure whether she is mouthing words, nor do they know how much she is able to see.
Kelly believes she has tried to speak and can recognize those around her. "I can just look in her eyes and tell," he said at a briefing at the Tucson hospital. "She is very aware of the situation."
Giffords will travel to Houston today by ambulance, air ambulance and then medical helicopter. Doctors said the rehabilitation will probably take months, but they declined to describe a best-case scenario.
Kelly, however, did.
"I've been telling the hospital staff she's going to walk through these halls … within a couple of months. I'm sure of that. So she'll be back," he said. Later, the doctors said it was possible.