Video: Giffords' smile a welcome sight

  1. Closed captioning of: Giffords' smile a welcome sight

    >>> now we have the latest tonight on congresswoman gabby giffords ' recovery from that gunshot wound she suffered back in january and those newly released photos over the weekend showing her smile intact. jay gray covering tonight in houston , hey, jay, good evening.

    >> reporter: the photos were taken here at the memorial hospital in houston and provide the best glimpse of gabby giffords since the attack, but few answers about her long-term recovery. in the new photos released by giffords staff, her hair is shorter, darker and she's wearing glasses, but friends say giffords smile is the one her family and friends know so well. it's the smile that's a welcome sight in tucson where so many are still coping with the tragedy.

    >> it's reassuring for the community to see that she's doing okay.

    >> patricia maisch was there that day.

    >> i did not expect her to look that great. i think she looks fabulous for what she's been through.

    >> reporter: these are the first public photographs of giffords since the attack, but say little about how her recovery is going. she attended her husband's shuttle launch that's a major milestone in her recovery. but just last week, the chief of staff in her recovery has said when it comes to bigger and -- three days later the month-old photos were releases.

    >> she spoke to me in sentences, initiated with those sentences instead of just responding which is what she's only been able to do until recently. she's making incredible process.

    >> progress she's making in time.

    >> this is a hidden injury that really takes months to years to fully heal and to improve.

    >> reporter: though her friends and family will tell you, brian, there's one thing it's impossible to hide and needs no improvement, it's that smile.

    >> jay gray in houston with

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/13/2011 8:11:12 AM ET 2011-06-13T12:11:12

Two photos of a smiling Rep. Gabrielle Giffords were released early Sunday by her office, her hair shorn short but few other telling signs of her gunshot wound to the head.

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The Facebook photos, the first clear snapshots of Giffords since the shooting five months ago, showed how far she has come since a gunman shot her in the left side of her forehead during a constituent meet-and-greet in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson.

But her spokeswoman, Pia Carusone, has cautioned that Giffords still has a long way to go in her recovery.

The photos show the congresswoman outside. She smiled directly into the camera in one, while she sat next to a woman in the other while smiling downward.

The images were taken on May 17 by P.K. Weis, a photojournalist who has known Giffords for more than a decade.

"Any photographer in the country would have loved the opportunity to take these pictures and I was delighted to be asked," Weis said. "Her staff asked me to do it because she wanted someone who was not a stranger — someone she would be comfortable around.

"It was very inspiring to see how much she had recovered in four-and-a-half months. I was excited to see her and to see her smile. She was glad to see me, was in a good mood, smiling and laughing and seemed to enjoy the experience. I certainly did, too."

Interactive: Giffords' shooting (on this page)

Giffords has been in a Houston rehab facility since two weeks after the Jan. 8 shooting. Six people were killed and 13 were injured, including Giffords.

Carusone said Friday that Giffords could be released sometime this month .

She said doctors and family are considering "many factors" while making the critical next-step decision to release Giffords from TIRR Memorial Hermann, the hospital where she has been undergoing intensive daily rehabilitation since late January.

"We're looking at before the end of the month. We're looking at early July," Carusone said. "We don't have a date."

Image: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and unidentfied woman
P.K. Weis  /  Associated Press
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and an unidentified woman are seen in this photo posted to her Facebook page by aides on Sunday.

But in an interview published this week in the Arizona Republic, Carusone made clear that Giffords remains a shadow of her former self as she has difficulty stringing together sentences and relies heavily on gestures and facial expressions to communicate. She also faces some difficulty in expressing bigger, more complex thoughts, Carusone said.

While Giffords' release from the hospital after five months of intensive inpatient therapy will mark an important step in her recovery, she still must undergo months of outpatient rehabilitation that will include speech, occupational and physical therapy.

Since the shooting, the only time the public has gotten a glimpse of Giffords was April 27 as she boarded a plane to Florida to watch astronaut husband Mark Kelly launch into space. The grainy footage, taken from afar, showed Giffords slowly but purposefully walk up the airplane's stairs.

The newly released photos provide a much clearer image.

Last month as Kelly was orbiting Earth, doctors repaired Giffords' skull, finally freeing her from wearing a cumbersome protective helmet that her staff members say she hated.

Since the shooting, Giffords has made remarkable strides, requesting her favorite foods, singing her favorite songs, and relearning how to walk and talk.

In an interview with The Arizona Republic published Thursday, Giffords' Chief of Staff Pia Carusone said Giffords' limited speaking ability has led her to rely primarily on facial expressions and hand gestures to communicate.

Video: Staff: Giffords struggling to communicate

"She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing," Carusone said. "Add it all together and she's able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But, when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble."

Carusone also said that if Giffords' recovery were to plateau now, "it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before."

"All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here," she said.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the shooting and is being held at a Missouri facility.

Story: Jared Loughner's lawyers: He can't tell us about Tucson rampage

A judge declared him incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors hope his competency can be restored so he can answer for the charges.

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

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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Timeline: Giffords' recovery

  1. Above: Timeline Giffords' recovery
  2. Interactive Giffords' shooting

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