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Posted at 1:34 PM ET, 01/11/2011

Condition of Gabrielle Giffords and other Arizona shooting victims updated

By Dana Hedgpeth

Doctors at University Medical Center said Tuesday that the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is unchanged from Monday.

Giffords, 40, remains in critical condition after she and 19 other people were shot Saturday at an event she was holding to meet constituents outside a Tucson supermarket. Six were killed and 14, including Giffords, were wounded when a young man with apparent mental problems opened fire on the gathering with a handgun.

"She's holding her own," said Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery. "She's following simple commands."

The commands include squeezing a hand, wiggling toes, giving a thumbs up sign. Lemole said he'd seen Giffords scratch her nose -- all positive signs. Doctors said concerns about swelling of her brain have gone down each day. Giffords has yet to open her eyes. Lemole said it is "hard to say" if she recognizes her family -- in part because she's been sedated.

Lemole said Giffords is breathing on her own but doctors are keeping the breathing tube in to keep her airways clear. "This phase is up to her. It's week to week, month to month," Lemole said. "We have to play by her timeline, not according to ours. We're very encouraged." Based on the severity of her injury, he said, "She has no right to look this good. We're hopeful."

Doctors brought in military physicians who are experts in severe brain injuries who said "she's thriving" and that the bullet entered the skull and exited out the back.

Six patients remain at the hospital with Giffords. Besides Giffords, three are in serious condition and two in fair condition.

Giffords's husband and parents have been at her bedside in the hospital's ICU unit. Lemole said they "understand the severity" of her condition and "they remain upbeat.

"They're taking it as well as they can," he said.

Giffords's husband is due to go on a shuttle mission in April.

Peter Rhee, the division chief of trauma at the hospital, said he thinks Giffords has a "101 percent chance" of surviving. "I can't tell you whether she will be in a vegetative state. I hope not."

The daughters of Dorwin and Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard spoke at a press conference about their mother who survived because their father died, shielding her from bullets.

"He heard the shots and covered my mom with his own body, and protected her and saved her," said Penny Wilson, one of Mavy's daughters. "She has a lot of strength and her condition is good."

"As dad lay dying, mom didn't know she'd been hurt...And it wasn't until they got to the hospital that she seven realized she'd been shot," said Angela Robinson.
"It was a beautiful way to say goodbye. And go home."

The couple had been high school sweethearts who moved away and married other people. When their respective spouses died, they reconnected and married. They had been married 15 years.

Bill Hielman, the husband of Susie Hielman who took 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green to the Saturday event, said his wife was undergoing surgery on a fractured hip today and is expected to be using a walker for three months.

He said the Greens are "dear, sweet friends" and that he and Christina's father spent about 10 minutes on the phone crying about the incident. He said Susie, a former social worker, and Christina were holding hands as they waited in line to shake Giffords's hand. He said his wife is having flashbacks and in and out of sedation.

He said he's heard her screaming, "Christina, Christina let's get out of here."

She asked, "what about Christina and we told her the truth," he said

By Dana Hedgpeth  | January 11, 2011; 1:34 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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