Doctors had planned this surgery for awhile.
The bullet wound had left a hole in Gifford’s skull, but the doctors were unable to re-insert her own bone because it was too fragmented and contaminated after the shooting.
Instead the surgeons implanted a synthetic piece that was custom-fit to cover the hole.
With that in place, Giffords can now cast aside her protective helmet.
Pia Carusone is her chief of staff.
“She’s excited, it marks a major milestone for her. She hates the helmet. She tells us about it every day and someone wrote 5-17-11 on the top of the helmet, that is the final date, that’s it. So it’s an exciting week for her.”
Dr. Dong Kim says that despite Gifford’s husband, astronaut Mark Kelly being in space, this was the right time to do the surgery.
“It’s only been about four months. Really for a patient to come this far as she has in that period of time after the kind of injury, she’s had is almost miraculous. She has made tremendous progress.”
But he refused to predict when exactly Giffords’ would leave the hospital or even if she might ever return to public service.
“The rate of recovery, though, is variable over time, and we can’t predict exactly how much more progress she’s going to make going forward. And so it would be very hard to say if and when she can return to work, but she has done very well so far and we hope that that progress continues.”
Rehabilitation specialist Dr. Gerard Francisco describes a patient who, for the most part, is lively and determined.
“We’re having more meaningful and fun conversation. She’s cracked me up several times. She’s made some jokes, we’ve had very good social conversations as well.”
Carusone says her boss is also homesick. Staff members read aloud to Giffords and that the congresswoman still follows national politics.
“You know we’ll read her news articles, The Arizona Daily Star has mailed a copy of the paper to her every day. So it’s a day old, but she gets to see her local newspaper. Um, we read her articles from that or other papers and update her on what’s gone on, you know, Trump’s not running for president, or whatever the news is.”
The medical team says Giffords will stay at Memorial Hermann through next week and then move back to TIRR, the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research.
From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.