Despite successful surgery, Giffords still faces long road to recovery

Although Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' (D-Ariz.) rapid arrival at the hospital and the location of her wound enhanced her chances of recovery, neurospecialists say danger still may loom, the Wall Street Journal reports.

On Saturday morning, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire on a "Congress on Your Corner" event held by Giffords at a Tucson, Ariz., Safeway supermarket. Twenty people were shot in the incident, including Giffords, and six died, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

Giffords arrived at Tucson's University Medical Center OR within 38 minutes of being shot and remained responsive to verbal commands, such as squeezing a physician's hand. Following the successful surgery, the congresswoman was placed in a medical coma to allow the brain to recover.

According to Giffords' physicians, the bullet entered the back left portion of her brain and exited through the front left. According to the chief of neuro-critical care at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center, the bullet appeared to have travelled through the "ineloquent brain," which is less critical for speech and thinking. In addition, the bullet did not cross both hemispheres, which likely would have left Giffords lobotomized or dead, according to Politico.

The congresswoman already has overcome the odds—about 88% to 90% of patients with gunshot wounds to the head die "in the field," and 50% of patients who make it to the hospital die in the ED. However, as of Sunday, physicians did not know the extent of nerve damage or whether skull fragments penetrated her brain, which can cause cognitive degeneration, mood difficulties or epilepsy.

According to the chairman of the Brain Injury Association of America, "the recovery long term is dependent on [Giffords] receiving really aggressive and seamless rehabilitation." Although brain tissue does not regenerate, long intensive therapy can teach other areas of the brain to compensate for lost function, Politico reports (Burton, Journal, 1/10; Coughlin, Politico, 1/10; King et al., Journal, 1/9).

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