Shot congresswoman OK with 'simple commands'

Arizona Congresswoman Gaberielle Giffords remains in critical condition after being shot through the head at a outdoor political event, but her doctors say they are optimistic about her recovery.

Bullet entered brain from the back but did not cross hemispheres

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords remained in critical condition Sunday after being shot through the head at an outdoor political event, but her doctors said they are optimistic about her recovery.

Dr. Michael Lemole, left, gives the media an update on the condition of Gabrielle Giffords and others shot in Tucson as Dr. Peter Rhee looks on at University Medical Center. ((Associated Press))

Neurosurgeon Michael Lemole, one of the doctors who operated on her at University Medical Center in Tucson on Saturday, said the bullet went through the left side of her brain, from the back to the front. That area of the brain controls the ability to understand and make speech.

Trauma specialist Dr. Peter Rhee said Giffords survived because the bullet did not cross between the brain's two hemispheres.

The doctors said the congresswoman was able to "follow simple commands" on Sunday.

"That includes things like, 'please squeeze your hand,' or 'show us two fingers.' Being able to do this implies a very high functioning in the brain," Lemole told reporters.

Giffords was meeting with constituents when a gunman approached her and opened fire with a semi-automatic Glock 19 9-mm handgun.

Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords is seen in this photo taking part in a re-enactment of her swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 5. ((Associated Press))

By the time bystanders tackled him, six people were dead and at least 13 people, including Giffords, were injured.

Lemole did not want to speculate on how long it may take for Giffords to recover.

"It's not uncommon after these kinds of injuries to be in the ICU for at least a week, maybe in the hospital for two or three weeks and no doubt there will be a rehabilitative phase, and that could take weeks to months."

Rhee said he remains positive about Giffords's chances for a full recovery.

"Overall, this is about as good as it's going to get. You know, when you get shot in the head and the bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living is very small and the chances of you waking up and actually following commands is even much smaller than that.

"So this, so far, has been a very good situation. Hopefully it will stay that way. 
'When you get shot in the head and the bullet goes through your brain, the chances of you living is very small.'—Trauma specialist Dr. Peter Rhee

"Obviously we don't know which direction she's going to go. It's still very precarious at this time," he added.

Eleven of the shooting victims were transported to University Medical Center, Rhee said. The youngest, nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, was dead on arrival, he said.

In all, six people died in the shooting, including Giffords' aide and a federal judge. Gifford is the only patient remaining in the intensive care unit, Rhee said.

Three remain in serious condition and the rest are in fair or good condition. One person has been discharged.