msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/18/2011 8:54:52 AM ET 2011-01-18T13:54:52

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is doing well after two surgeries this weekend: a tracheotomy and a repair to fractures in the right eye, doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., said at a news conference on Monday.

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"The next major step is the graduation to rehabilitation," said UMC neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lemole. As for the next milestone, it's "the day she leaves this hospital. That's her graduation; then she moves on to rehabilitation.

"It could be a matter of days to weeks," Lemole continued.

Doctors on Saturday repaired an orbital roof fracture in the congresswoman's right eye. They say they're not yet sure how this may have affected her vision, but "our suspicion is that she can see something," Lemore said. He says the eye operation entailed making an incision above the eyebrow, removing bone chips to relieve pressure and reconstructing the roof of the socket.

There were no complications from the surgery, and Giffords is improving so much that she was able to give her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, a back rub from her hospital bed, Kelly told Diane Sawyer of ABC News in an interview to air Tuesday.

"(It is) so typical of her. She's in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage," Kelly explained. "I keep tellin' her. I'm like, 'Gabby, you're in the ICU. You know, you don't need — you know, you don't need to be doin' this.' But it's so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she's lookin' out for other people."

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The gesture seemed to comfort Giffords and shows that his wife is improving and that her spirit and their personal bond remain strong, he said.

Giffords still cannot speak because of a tracheotomy done so the breathing tube could be removed from her mouth.

On Sunday, doctors upgraded Giffords' condition from critical to serious.

Later at the news conference, Giffords' doctors reported a happy piece of news: Giffords has even smiled occasionally, according to her husband. Dr. Randall Friese said sometimes people see what they want to see, but that "if he says she's smiling, I buy it."

Kelly also said he would be willing to meet with the parents of suspect Jared Loughner. Kelly, who has two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, said they have to be hurting.

Loughner, 22, tried to assassinate Giffords Jan. 8 and opened fire on a crowd gathered for a public event she was holding outside a Tucson supermarket, authorities said. Six people were killed, Giffords and 12 others were wounded.

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Video: Giffords could be released from hospital soon

  1. Closed captioning of: Giffords could be released from hospital soon

    >> about more encouraging news about the condition of congresswoman gabby giffords . miguel al is in tucson with the story.

    >> reporter: she could start rehab in days. her road to recovery will be a long one but they say she's on her way. progress for congresswoman gabrielle giffords is measured in simple steps but she has reached out to her husband, mark kelly , caressing his neck, a tender moment between husband and wife.

    >> it does imply that she is recognizing him and that she's interacting perhaps in an old, farm way with him.

    >> reporter: the public outpouring of support for giffords can be seen everywhere. a massive memorial outside the hospital here, another at the scene of the shooting where six were killed. a few miles away at the family home, the suspect's parents --

    >> do you have a statement to make today?

    >> reporter: -- wouldn't answer questions. jared loughner is in custody at this prison and will be back in court monday charged with multiple counts of murder and the attempted assassination of congresswoman giffords. doctors here say the congresswoman may have even tried to smile at her husband, another promising sign. meantime, two other victims of the shooting remain hospitalized here in good condition. we're told they could be released any day. ann?

    >> that's hopeful news this morning. thank you very much, miguel

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