Video: Rep. Giffords’ recovery ‘miraculous, lucky’

  1. Transcript of: Rep. Giffords’ recovery ‘miraculous, lucky’

    VIEIRA: That's good news. NBC 's Miguel Almaguer , thank you very much . Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC 's chief medical editor. Nancy , good morning to you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hey, Meredith.

    VIEIRA: Hard to believe just six days ago...

    SNYDERMAN: Hm.

    VIEIRA: ...Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head. And had that bullet penetrated her brain in just a slightly different direction she would probably be dead. But since then, she has put up two fingers, she's moved her arms and her legs...

    SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

    VIEIRA: ...she's opened her eyes. Doctors say they seem now to be tracking.

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    VIEIRA: Is what we're witnessing miraculous given someone in her condition?

    SNYDERMAN: It's a combination of miraculous, lucky that the trajectory of the bullet is what it was, and I think we have to give a lot of credit to this stellar medical crew. They had her from a battlefield through the ICU , I mean, and into the OR and then back to the ICU within 38 minutes. I mean, they treated this like it was, you know, a typical war zone. The physicians and everyone on the faculty there, it's made a huge difference in her recovery. But what they said yesterday was her ability now to follow commands. They're simple commands, but it shows that things are firing in her brain and connections are being made. And the fact that she can now track a little bit with her eyes means that she's cognizant of some things around her.

    VIEIRA: You know, when she opened her eyes for the first time she was surrounded by some of her female colleagues.

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    VIEIRA: Senator Gillibrand spoke so eloquently about that. Afterwards, one of the others was in there, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz , was in the hospital room. She said it shows you what a little girl power can do. She was kind of joking, but there's merit in those words, isn't there?

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah, I -- look, I think she's joking but we know it's true.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: When people are stand -- sitting vigil and her husband is there and the television is on, you recognize, patients will tell you afterwards, that they were surrounded. But then there's sort of a new voice, it's familiar, and it makes your brain work a little harder. And if it's a deep girlfriend, yeah, there are chemical changes, there are emotional changes. So there's -- we don't -- it's what I would called soft science. There's something to it. But something pushed her a little bit. It was that familiar voice in an unfamiliar setting and then of course the doctors asked them to leave because they didn't want to exhaust her.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: But a phenomenal sign.

    VIEIRA: And the doctors are saying now that they're going to start aggressive physical therapy with her. I know they've...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    VIEIRA: ...sat her up and they're going to, I think, put her in a chair today, sit her in a chair today?

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah. They're not so worried about the brain swelling at this point. Now they move into just normal stuff. They don't want her to throw a blood clot, they don't want her to get pneumonia. That tube down her throat is to protect her airway. They would like to get that out sooner than later so they...

    VIEIRA: They can hear if she can speak?

    SNYDERMAN: They want to be able to hear her speak and evaluate her brain. Now I just want to caution everyone, now the baby steps happen. A little bit every day that will be cumulative. Will she be walking out of this hospital next Friday? No. She's under -- she's looking frankly at months and years of rehabilitation both mentally and physically and psychologically. And we'll learn more every day, but a real shootout again to those surgeons for being so frank and yet not being pushed into saying things that they really don't mean. But this is really quite wonderful.

Image: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Ho  /  AFP - Getty Images
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 1/14/2011 7:59:12 AM ET 2011-01-14T12:59:12

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' friends say it's nothing short of a miracle: Days after being shot in the head point-blank, the injured congresswoman opened an eye Wednesday for the first time.

Two of her closest friends from Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., were in Giffords' Tucson, Ariz., hospital room at the time. Both had traveled to Arizona on Air Force One with President Barack Obama to attend a memorial service for the victims of Saturday's shooting rampage.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama immediately headed to University Medical Center after landing in Tucson, and spent about 10 minutes with Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. Soon after, Gillibrand and Wasserman Schultz, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, got their chance to visit.

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The women became close friends while they were all serving in the House. Their professional bond turned personal, with Giffords and her husband going on double-dates with Gillibrand and her husband at Matchbox, one of their favorite Washington restaurants, and taking summer vacations to New Hampshire with Wasserman Schultz's family.

These were the memories they were sharing with Giffords when the congresswoman started to signal that she may have known they were there.

"We started talking about all the things we plan to do when she got better. 'Gabby, you’ve got to get better because we have to have another double-date, we’re going to take you out for pizza,'" Gillibrand told NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams.

"So we were really trying to tell her how much we miss her and love her and how we wanted her to know we were with her every step of the way, and that’s when she began to really started to respond."

Video: Sen. Gillibrand: 'Giffords is inspiring a nation' (on this page)

Gillibrand said she was holding Giffords' left hand when she started to flicker her left eye. (Her right eye, damaged in the shooting, is bandaged.)

"We're watching her and saying, 'Gabby, you can do it.' Everyone who loves her is around this hospital bed, her mother, her  father, her doctor, her husband, her friends, all these people are there to say, 'Gabby, we're with you,' and she doesn't just put a thumbs up, she raises her entire arm."

"The doctors couldn't believe what they were seeing," Gillibrand said. "They were saying this is unbelievable progress, to see this."

Video: House peers reflect on bedside visit to Giffords (on this page)

"Mark started to tell her, ‘Gabby, if you can see me, give me the thumbs up sign,'" Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC's Chris Matthews on "Hardball."

"He encouraged her and pushed her to do that. She kept opening her eyes a little more and a little bit more and suddenly, her arm went up … and she touched his arm and his ring."

"We were all just overcome with emotion. It was incredible," Wasserman Schultz said.

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"Few things in our life will ever compare to being in that room when our Gabby opened her eyes," Pelosi said on "Hardball." "And you know, they’re blue, blue eyes, so there’s no mistaking they were open. Beautiful. And it was thrilling."

Kelly told the president and first lady about the development as they drove from the hospital to the University of Arizona's McKale Center, where Obama would speak at a memorial service. Kelly gave the president permission to tell the crowd about his wife's progress.

"Gabby opened her eyes," Obama told the cheering crowd. "So I can tell you: She knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Photos: Former Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

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  1. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. (Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting. (P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend." (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others. (P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010. (James Berglie / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008. (Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants. (Scott J. Ferrell) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law. (Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006. (Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead." (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings." (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door." (University High School) Back to slideshow navigation
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