Rep. Gabrielle Giffords breathing on her own


by Catherine Holland

Posted on January 11, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 11 at 8:15 PM

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Two more of the victims from Saturday's mass shooting in Tucson have been released from the hospital. That leaves six people still in the care of University Medical Center. One of those, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, remains in critical condition. Three others are in serious condition and the remaining two are in fair condition.

Dr. Peter Rhee, the chief of trauma, critical care and emergency surgery at UMC, said one person was undergoing surgery Tuesday. Several more procedures will be performed in the week ahead.

As for Giffords, neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole said she is "holding her own" and that her condition remains unchanged. She is still following simple commands. Doctors say that's the best possible news.

Doctors have said in previous updates that the ability for Giffords' to follow basic commands indicates that her brain is functioning at a high level.

"You've got to hear, you've got to process, and you've got to do," said Dr. Peter Nakaji, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital. "That means a lot of brain is working."

Lemole also said Tuesday that they have been able to back off on the sedation and that Giffords is able to breathe on her own. That does not mean doctors will take her off the ventilator right away. Lemole said they are keeping the breathing tube in to protect Giffords' airway and guard against complications like pneumonia.

In response to a question, Rhee said forensics now lead them to believe the bullet traveled from the front of Giffords' brain to the back. Doctors had said initially that they thought it went from back to front on the left side.

"There's an entry and an exit wound. Which one is which, we can't say for sure," Rhee said. "We do think from the expertise [military doctors] are giving us that it probably went in the front and came out the back."

From here on out, there's no specific step-by-step protocol for doctors to follow.

"This is the phase of the care where it's so much up to her," Lemole said. "It's week to week, month to month. ... As long as we don't backslide and as long as she holds her own, that's good. That keeps us hopeful. We have to play this according to her timeline, not ours. ... She's going to take her recovery at her own pace. I'm very encouraged by the fact that she has done so well."

Doctors once again emphasized the seriousness of Giffords' wound, saying it's amazing that she is doing as well as she is.