U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords can now stand with assistance, has tried to speak, and on Thursday got her first breath of fresh air since she was shot in the head 12 days ago, doctors and her husband said.
In a key turning point for her recuperation, the congresswoman is to be moved on Friday from the University Medical Center in Tucson, where she has been hospitalized since the shooting, to a special rehabilitation facility in Houston, Texas.
On her last full day at UMC, she was taken on a brief stroll in a wheelchair to the hospital's helipad for some sunshine and fresh air to lift her spirits, accompanied by physical therapists and her husband, said Jo Marie Gellerman, a spokeswoman for the medical facility.
"It was a chance to see the mountains (around Tucson) one more time before she leaves to go to Houston tomorrow," Gellerman said.
Doctors said exposure to natural daylight also was important in their efforts to get Giffords, 40, back into a regular sleep pattern.
Giffords, hospitalized since the shocking Jan. 8 shooting spree outside a Tucson supermarket, has "made a remarkable recovery,' her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly said at a new conference.
"She is a fighter like nobody else that I know," Kelly said.
Giffords is beginning to make cognitive gains during her recovery, her doctor said on Thursday.
"She is beginning to stand with assistance, she is scrolling through an iPad — these are all fantastic advances for her. They do show higher cognitive function," Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurology at University Medical Center in Tucson, said Thursday.
'Long road ahead'"But I do want to caution ... that she has a long road ahead of her," he added.
Giffords was shot through the head when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of constituents gathered to meet her outside a Tucson supermarket.
Six bystanders, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were killed and 13 others were wounded, Giffords among them.
Doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson, where she has received treatment since the attack, plan to move her to a rehabilitation facility in Houston on Friday to start the next phase of her recovery.
Since her hospitalization, she has steadily progressed. The latest milestone was her being able to stand with assistance on Wednesday.
"Every time I interact with her there's something quite inspiring," astronaut Kelly said on Thursday. He said Giffords has patted him, massaged his neck and shown other signs of getting better.
He predicted that she will walk back into the hospital in Tucson soon, and thank everyone who took care of her.
"In two months, you'll see her walking through the front door of this building," he said.
Kelly said he believes his wife already has tried to speak but remains unable to talk due to a breathing tube inserted into her windpipe through her neck.
"I feel she's made some attempts," he said.
"She has a tracheostomy. Intellectually, she knows that's there, She knows what that means. In my mind, she's made some attempts."
During rehabilitation in Texas she will have to relearn how to think and plan. It's unclear if she is able to speak or how well she can see. And while she is moving both arms and legs, it's uncertain how much strength she has on her right side.
A gunman shot Giffords and 18 other people Jan. 8 as she met with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died and the other wounded. All survivors have been released from hospitals except Giffords.
Suspect indictedThe suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, of Tucson, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Tucson Wednesday, accused of attempting to assassinate Giffords and trying to kill two of her aides.
It does not include two murder charges listed in an earlier criminal complaint for the deaths of Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30, and U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63. Those are potential death penalty charges and prosecutors said they require a more painstaking process. Additional charges are likely.
Loughner is in federal custody. He is set for a preliminary hearing on Monday in Phoenix.
Though Giffords remains in serious condition, her recovery has amazed her family and impressed her doctors.
Dr. John Holcomb, retired Army colonel and a trauma surgeon at the Houston hospital, praised the care she received in Tucson and said Giffords would "move quickly toward a tailored and comprehensive rehab plan."
Over the weekend, she was weaned off the ventilator and had her breathing tube replaced with a tracheotomy tube in her windpipe. Doctors also inserted a feeding tube to boost her calorie intake and repaired her right eye socket, which was damaged by the bullet.
Since being taken off sedation, Giffords has been alert and opening her eyes more often. She also started rigorous physical therapy, dangling her legs over her bedside to exercise her muscles and sitting in a chair for periods at a time. Kelly told ABC in an interview that she gave him a neck rub.
Still, the extent of her injuries and long-term prognosis won't be known for some time.
"When she's medically stable, there's really no reason to keep her there," where she could get infections and other complications long known to plague patients with long hospital stays, said Dr. Steve Williams, rehab chief at Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Medicine.
"Over the last five to 10 years, there has been a big push to getting patients rapidly to rehab," because research shows they recover faster and better the earlier therapy starts, he said.