Barrow neurosurgeon offers opinion on Giffords' recovery, Florida trip

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PHOENIX -- Now that doctors have cleared Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to attend Friday's shuttle launch in Florida, many are wondering how her recovery is progressing.

This will be the first time Giffords has traveled since she was transferred from University Medical Center in Tucson to a Houston facility to continue recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.

Dr. Peter Nakaji, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute, sat down with Tara Hitchcock to talk in general about brain injuries like the one Giffords sustained and what doctors consider when releasing a patient for activities like travel.

"It's amazing that she lived, and then it's amazing that we're even talk about trips and that kind of thing," he said. "It's been startling.

"I don't think the average patient would travel at this time if they didn't have a good reason, but there's not a danger like there would have been very early on. I think that it's very reasonable," Nakaji said.

Giffords is set to go to Florida later in the week. The astronauts, including her husband, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, are already there. Kelly is the commander of this two-week shuttle flight. It will be Endeavor's last mission and the second to last launch in the 30-year shuttle program.  

Kelly told reporters that Giffords is more than medically ready for the trip.

The congresswoman has not been seen for the past three months. She has spent that time undergoing intensive physical, speech and occupational therapy, relearning how to speak, walk and take care of herself.

Giffords' doctors believe this Florida trip will be a good opportunity for her to use everything she has been learning during the recovery and rehabilitation process.

Giffords is scheduled for a cranioplasty in the next month of so. During that procedure, doctors will replace the fragment of skull that they removed to accommodate swelling after she was wounded.

"Everything should look completely normal again," Nakaji said.

Giffords' survival and recovery have been nothing short of incredible.

"She's in a remarkably small but fortunate area," Nakaji said, attributing Giffords' progress to the excellent care she received right from the beginning.

"It was very rapid care. She really got the state-of-the-art. It's the same care your or I would get, too," he  said. "It's great news all around."