HOUSTON — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords smiled inside an ambulance as she heard applause from her hometown Friday, and doctors say her transfer to a hospital in Houston went flawlessly.
Giffords got a dramatic send-off as throngs of sign-carrying well-wishers lined the streets to wave at the ambulance taking the wounded congresswoman from the hospital to the airport just 13 days after she was shot.
The trip by ambulance, jet and helicopter took her to a Houston hospital where she will undergo weeks of rigorous rehabilitation.
It will be at least next week before Giffords is moved from the Texas Medical Center's intensive care unit to its TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital, and she faces months of rigorous therapy.
"She looks spectacular," said Dr. Dong Kim, neurosurgery chief at UTHealth.
A gunman shot Giffords, D-Ariz., and 18 other people Jan. 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died; all other survivors have been released from the hospital. The suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, is in federal custody.
Giffords, whose against-the-odds fight for survival has inspired people across the country, had been making progress nearly every day at University Medical Center in Tucson. Her husband, Houston-based astronaut Mark Kelly, tweeted Friday: "GG going to next phase of her recover today. Very grateful to the docs and nurses at UMC, Tucson PD, Sheriffs Dept....Back in Tucson ASAP!"
Kelly traveled with Giffords, along with her mother, a doctor and other medical workers.
Despite the steady progress, doctors warn that Giffords has a long road to recovery. Doctors are not sure what, if any, disability she will have.
Kelly said Giffords would be proud of the way Tucson has responded. Memorials continued to grow Friday outside the hospital, in front of her office and at the scene of the shooting.
"I know one of the first things Gabby is going to want to do as soon as she's able to is start writing thank-you notes," he said.
Al Garcia came on his Harley-Davidson to stand along the ambulance route as Giffords left.
"We want to be here to help her and show her a good farewell and hope that she has a great recovery," Garcia said. "It's through all of these prayers that she's leaving in just two weeks."
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.