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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords: On the Road to Recovery

Rep Gabrielle Giffords pp

The Incident

The Mischer Neuroscience Institute (MNI) and TIRR Memorial Hermann took the national stage when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was transferred to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center’s Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. The Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head at pointblank range on Jan. 8 when an assailant opened fire outside a grocery store in Tucson, killing six people and wounding 13 others. She was transported to University Medical Center in critical condition, and a portion of her skull was removed to relieve brain swelling. 

In a press conference immediately following Rep. Giffords’ transition to Memorial Hermann-TMC, medical teams from both hospitals described her transfer of care as “seamless.” 

 “It was a very smooth transfer, thanks to the collaborative efforts of both hospitals and the help of the U.S. Capitol Police and the Navy,” says Imoigele Aisiku, M.D., medical director of the Neuroscience ICU and Neurosurgery Intermediate Care Unit at MNI. “She was medically stable when she arrived and began rehabilitation the following day. From medical data and our own experience, we know that the earlier we begin the rehabilitation process, the faster a patient will regain function down the road.”

 Rep. Giffords’ physician team upgraded her condition from serious to good four days after her admission to MNI, and she was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann to begin inpatient rehabilitation. At the rehabilitation hospital, a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses and therapists who specialize in head trauma worked closely with Rep. Giffords to develop the best combination of therapies for a return to function.

 “We’re like an orchestra,” says Gerard Francisco, M.D., chief medical officer of TIRR Memorial Hermann and professor and chair of the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, who was in charge of Rep. Giffords’ care during her stay at the rehabilitation hospital. “The comprehensive rehabilitation services we provide treat the whole person and expedite recovery.”

 “Because TIRR Memorial Hermann is on our Campus, she had the same physician team in two locations from day one,” says Dr. Aisiku, who is also vice chair of the division of Critical Care and an associate professor in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at the UTHealth Medical School. “I continued to see her during her stay at TIRR Memorial Hermann, and when she was readmitted to the acute care hospital for cranioplasty, her physical medicine and rehabilitation team saw her here. There were no walls between us.” 

 On May 18, neurosurgeon Dong Kim, M.D., performed a successful cranioplasty to replace the piece of Rep. Giffords’ skull that was removed on Jan. 8. He attached a plastic computer-generated implant to her skull, along with a shunt to drain fluid, eliminating the need for a protective helmet. 

Looking into the Future 

On June 8, she celebrated another milestone – her 41st birthday. “Since Gabby arrived in Houston and at Memorial Hermann, we have been consistently pleased with the strides she has made,” says Dr. Kim, who is director of the Mischer Neuroscience Institute and professor and chair of the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at the UTHealth Medical School. “I could not be more proud of how far she has come. She looked terrific when she returned to Congress on Aug. 1, and her presence there offers clear signs of cognitive improvement, physical strength and personal confidence. She has a strong will to recover, and we look forward to seeing the next milestone in her journey.”