Image: Handout shows NASA Shuttle Commander Kelly sitting next to stretcher of wife Rep. Giffords aboard medical transport on way to Houston hospital
Ho  /  Reuters
Mark Kelly (L), the husband of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, sits next to his wife (unseen, on a stretcher) with Giffords' mother Gloria (2nd L) as they arrive in Houston, Texas.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/22/2011 7:18:30 PM ET 2011-01-23T00:18:30

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has begun what will likely be a months-long recovery at a Houston rehabilitation center two weeks after being shot in the head by an Arizona gunman, medical staff said on Saturday.

"She's doing very well," said Gerard Francisco, chief medical officer at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann, who is overseeing Giffords' months-long rehabilitation journey.

"We initiated therapy yesterday and had therapy today as well," Francisco told reporters on a tour of the rehab center. "She is responding very well."

Another of her doctors, trauma surgeon John Holcomb, said a buildup of fluid in her brain could keep her in intensive care until at least the end of the week, delaying the start of full-fledged rehab.

In a Twitter message sent at about 5 a.m. CST Saturday, Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, said she was "all settled in" and was "doing great in her new room."

The 40-year-old Arizona congresswoman arrived Friday at the Texas Medical Center, where she was expected to spend days in intensive care before moving to TIRR Memorial Hermann rehab hospital.

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Giffords, 40, suffered a gunshot wound to the head at close range on Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire at an event where she was meeting with constituents. Doctors have described her progress so far as akin to a miracle.

Jared Lee Loughner, a 22-year-old college dropout, is charged with the shooting. Six bystanders including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were killed in the incident, and 13 others were wounded, Giffords among them.

Intensive care
Giffords remains in the intensive care unit because of a drain in place to remove a buildup of fluid in her skull, which puts her at higher risk for infection.

Even in the intensive care ward, Giffords could undergo some rehab activities, including moving in bed, sitting and standing, and other strengthening exercises, Francisco said.

Giffords will get more intensive rehabilitation at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, renowned for its treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries. Once she is out of the intensive care unit, doctors said, she faces at least four to six months of intensive therapy.

Video: Mark Kelly: Wife's rapid recovery 'quite inspiring'

Rehabilitation center staff gave journalists a tour of their facilities — including a large gymnasium-like room full of exercise mats, weight machines and treadmills where brain-injury patients relearn the rudimentary movement skills.

"The biggest challenge is discipline — you have to repeat things so many times," said Lex Frieden, a rehabilitation expert at the hospital.

Giffords will likely have to relearn basic skills like tying her shoes, and "the repetition is boring and requires a lot of discipline," Frieden told reporters.

The rehabilitation center is decked out with specialized equipment, including a weight-assisted treadmill that suspends patients in a harness and allows them to relearn walking skills without bearing their full weight.

Video: What will Giffords' rehab involve? (on this page)

Departure from Tucson
On Friday, a caravan carrying her swept past cheering crowds as she left the hospital in Tucson, Ariz., prompting tears to well up in Giffords' eyes and smiles.

Children sat on their parents' shoulders as the motorcade passed. Many waved. Others carried signs wishing "Gabby" well. "It was very emotional and very special," said Dr. Randall Friese, who traveled with Giffords.

Video: Wounded survivor: 'Christina, don't you die on me' (on this page)

For some along the route to the airport in Tucson, the sight of her motorcade seemed like a prayer answered.

Bundled into an ambulance, Giffords slipped away from the hospital, leaving behind the grief and hope embodied in the cards, candles and carnations at a makeshift memorial on the front lawn.

Marine veteran Al Garcia waited anxiously along the route to the airport, his Harley Davidson motorcycle at his side. He wanted to join the back of the caravan to show support for the woman who visited his neighborhood to ask about residents' concerns.

"It's through all of these prayers that she's leaving in just two weeks," Garcia said.

"The community has just come together so much — all walks of life, no matter what party you belong to," he said. "They've all come together to show their support for her and the other victims of this tragedy."

Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Video: Giffords ‘surprised’ doctors at Houston hospital

  1. Closed captioning of: Giffords ‘surprised’ doctors at Houston hospital

    >> began her first full day at a houston rehabilitation hospital today. the next step after the shooting two weeks ago today. she was flown to the texas medical center yesterday. janet good evening.

    >> reporter: hi lester. gabrielle giffords was seen by a number of therapists today who were evaluating her condition. they said "she surprised us". today a first look inside the facility where gabrielle giffords will take the next step on her road to recovery. therapists will guide here through exercises to regain basic skills.

    >> she surprised us. she did not need as much assistance as we had anticipated. there were still people holding onto her, but she is activating her muscles even more than what i had anticipated.

    >> good luck, we love you!

    >> reporter: giffords arrived in houston on friday.

    >> i felt like we were letting go of a family member, but she is going to come back.

    >> reporter: they lined the route. doctor said she responded.

    >> when i drove with her in the ambulance and saw her reaction to the cheering in the streets, it confirmed to me that she knows what is going on.

    >> reporter: giffords was taken to the hospital's trauma unit. it is going well so far according to her husband, astronaut mark kelly . and encouraging news from a nurse. during the flight to houston when this photograph was taken. tracy culbert described how she play the with her ring.

    >> she took it and was looking at it and turning it to see all sides of the ring and put it onto her finger to hold on to it.

    >> reporter: it is doctors say, another sign of her progress and strength. as a shoe chaptnew dhap chaptchapter of her recovery begins. tonight she is still in inten intensice care but is expected to be moved.

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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  1. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
    Above: Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
  2. Image:
    Morry Gash / AP
    Slideshow (45) Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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