HOUSTON – U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords reached a major milestone in her recovery Wednesday when she was discharged from TIRR Memorial Hermann.
She will soon begin outpatient treatment at the same facility.
Giffords suffered a critical brain injury when she was shot in the head in Tucson on Jan. 8.
Doctors treating the Arizona congresswoman say her cognitive abilities and physical strength have improved to the point where she no longer needs to remain a patient in the hospital.
"Congresswoman Giffords has shown clear, continuous improvement from the moment she arrived at TIRR five months ago," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the hospital’s chief medical officer. "We are very excited that she has reached the next phase of her rehabilitation and can begin outpatient treatment. We have no doubt that she will continue to make significant strides in her recovery."
Giffords will move into the League City home of her husband, Mark Kelly.
"Gabby gives her all to everything she does and that’s exactly what she’s been doing at TIRR since Jan. 26," said Kelly. "The remarkable progress she has made since then is a testament to both her single-minded determination to get better and the team of medical professionals overseeing her care."
As an outpatient, Giffords’ intensive therapy program will not change. Her care will continue to be overseen by Dr. Francisco, who also serves as the chairman of the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The congresswoman will continue to work with the same rehab team that she has worked with so far.
"This continuity of care will ensure that the congresswoman’s recovery continues to go well," Francisco said. "The benefit – and we expect it to be significant – is that she will be able to leave TIRR every afternoon."
At Kelly’s home, Giffords will be assisted by a 24-hour home health provider.
"Anyone who knows Gabby knows that she loves being outside," Kelly said. "Living and working in a rehab facility for five months straight has been especially challenging for her. She will still go to TIRR each day but from now on, when she finishes rehab, she will be with her family."
On May 18, Giffords underwent a cranioplasty procedure to replace a portion of her skull that had been removed to relieve the pressure of swelling on her brain. The cranioplasty replaced the missing skull fragment with a ceramic implant, around which bone cells will grow in time.
A permanent shunt was also implanted to drain fluids into her abdominal cavity via a plastic tube. Both procedures were successful. Doctors removed the stitches from the cranioplasty two weeks ago, a final step in the healing process.
"Gabby has recovered well from the surgery," said Dr. Dong Kim, director of Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann and professor and chair, department of Neurosurgery, UT Health Medical School. "Her wounds have healed, she has resumed full physical therapy without a helmet, and I am comfortable that she can be discharged."
Giffords started rehabilitation in the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center Neurotrauma ICU on Friday, January 21 when she was flown from Arizona to Houston. She was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann on Wednesday, January 26.