The first photographs of smiling U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords – since she was shot in the head in a mass shooting in Tucson about five months ago – were published on her Facebook page early on Sunday. On January 8, 2011, Giffords was a victim of a shooting near Tucson, which was reported to be an assassination attempt on her, at a Safeway supermarket where she was meeting publicly with constituents.
Giffords was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head; six people were killed, among them conservative federal judge John Roll, who had received death threats two years earlier. Another thirteen people were injured in the shooting.
The new photos were taken outside Houston hospital, where had been since two weeks after the Jan. 8 shooting. Both photos show Giffords outside. In one she is alone and smiling at the camera, her hair trimmed short with the skin on the side of her head slightly disclored but with no clear sign of any scarring. In the other, she is sitting with her mother, Gloria Giffords.
The photos were taken by P.K. Weis of SouthwestPhotoBank.com. He has worked as a photojournalist in the Southwest for about four decades. He worked at the Tucson Citizen for 36 years, including 30 as photo editor, until the paper closed in 2009. Weis has known Congresswoman Giffords for more than a decade, since before she was first elected to the Legislature.
“Any photographer in the country would have loved the opportunity to take these pictures and I was delighted to be asked. I’ve known Gabby for more than a decade and her staff asked me to do it because she wanted someone who was not a stranger – someone she would be comfortable around. The photos were taken in her room and in an outside area of the hospital.” Mr Weis said.
He continued: “In addition to the congresswoman, her mother, one of her staff members and a close friend were there. Doctors and nurses also came in and out. It was very inspiring to see how much she had recovered in 4½ months. I was excited to see her and to see her smile. She was glad to see me, was in a good mood, smiling and laughing and seemed to enjoy the experience. I certainly did, too.”
The pictures were taken just before the surgery that she underwent on May 18. Doctors replaced a piece of her skull that had been removed shortly after the shooting to allow her brain to swell. Surgeons replaced the bone, using tiny screws, with piece of molded hard plastic; they expect that her skull will eventually fuse with the plastic’s porous material. That finally freed her from wearing a cumbersome protective helmet that her family members say she couldn’t stand.
After the shooting, the only time the public was able to see Giffords was on April 27. She boarded a plane to Florida to watch her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, launch into space. The footage showed Giffords slowly but purposefully walking up the airplane’s stairs.
Giffords has made remarkable advance. She was requesting her favorite food, singing her favorite songs. She had to learn anew how to walk and talk, although she struggles to string sentences together. Her Chief of Staff Pia Carusone mentioned that Giffords’ limited speaking ability has led her to use mostly facial expressions and gestures to communicate.
“Add it all together and she’s able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that’s where she’s had the trouble,” Carusone added. She also said: “She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she’s still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing,”
Carusone also admitted that Giffords’ recovery were to plateau now. She said: “All that we can hope for is that she won’t plateau today and that she’ll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here.”
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has petitioned not guilty to accusations stemming from the shooting and is being held at a Missouri facility. A judge declared him incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors hope his competence will be restored so he can face a charge.
Giffords, 40, is a moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party candidate who sought to throw her from office over her support of the health care law. She is married to astronaut Mark E. Kelly, who has piloted space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery. The two met in China in 2003 while they were serving on a committee there, and were married in January 2007. [via CBC, New York Times and Huffpost]