Rep: Gabrielle Giffords: Phoenix neurosurgeon talks about traumatic brain injury

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by Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on January 11, 2011 at 7:46 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 11 at 9:54 AM

PHOENIX --  Rep. Gabrielle Giffords remains in intensive care at University Medical Center in Tucson after being shot in the head Saturday.

Doctors at UMC say they are cautiously optimistic about her recovery, saying her condition at this point remain unchanged, which is a good thing. There's been no indication of increased brain swelling in her brain and she continue to respond to simple commands.

Kaley O'Kelley talked to  Dr. Peter Nakaji, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital, about what all of this means.

"There's not so much we can do for the injury to the brain itself but to prevent more injury," he said.

Shortly after the shooting, former surgeon general Dr. Richard Carmona called Giffords' injury "devastating." Nakaji agreed.

"Nine out of 10 people with that kind of injury at close range would die," he said.

Doctors at UMC removed a portion of Giffords' skull to allow the brain room to swell and relieve the pressure from that swelling.

Nakaji said the fact that Giffords' responds to basic commands -- raising two fingers, wiggling her toes, giving a thumbs up -- is a very good sign.

"You've got to hear, you've got to process, and you've got to do," he explains. "That means a lot of brain is working."

Dr. Michael Lemole, one of the doctors caring for Giffords at UMC, said something similar during Monday's news conference.

"[Responding to simple commands] implies that not only are the centers of the brain working, but they're communicating with one another," Lemole said.

Lemole said post-operative day three, which is today, tends to be when swelling peaks, although it can take longer.

"Every day we get further from the injury, we're much more relaxed that maybe we've gotten through this," he said Tuesday morning.

Lemole and his team are keeping a close eye on Giffords to make sure she does not backslide.

While doctors will not speculate on Giffords' long-term prognosis, the congresswoman faces a long road to recovery, including lots of rehabilitation.

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