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Doctors: Giffords Breathing on Her Own

  • Gifford and Mark Kelly hold hands at bedside

    Jan. 9, 2011: Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, holds the congresswoman's hand in her room at University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz. (AP/Office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords)

  • Giffords

    Jan. 5: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., takes part in a reenactment of her swearing-in, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

Just days after being shot in the head, doctors say Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is breathing on her own.

Dr. Michael LeMole, chief of neurosurgery at University Medical Center in Tucson, said Tuesday during a press conference that doctors have left a breathing tube in Giffords to protect her airway, but the congresswoman is drawing breaths on her own. She's alert and responding to doctors.

“I'm happy to say that she's holding her own, her status is the same as it was yesterday; she's still following those simple commands,” LeMole said. “We've been able to back off on some of that sedation and, in fact, she's able to generate her own breaths; she's breathing on her own. In fact, the only reason we keep that breathing tube in is to protect her airway so that she doesn't have complications like pneumonia.”

Rep. Giffords' office released new photos Tuesday of Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, holding the congresswoman's hand in her room at University Medical Center in Tuscon.

Six people are still hospitalized after the shooting Saturday at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson. The attack killed six and injured 14 others.

On Monday, LeMole said Giffords was responding to simple commands such as raising her fingers, gripping a hand or wiggling her toes.

“This is a serious injury – the bullet did traverse her brain and leave behind fragments and bone, however she is thriving,” said Dr. Jeff Ling, a prominent neurosurgeon with the U.S. Army who was brought in to consult on Giffords’ case. “Her recovery is going to be a process, but although we are all very hopeful, she is critically ill.”

Hospital officials have said it was good luck and the fact that she was in the operating room only 38 minutes from the time of the shooting that played a key role in her survival.

LeMole said the recovery will be a step-by-step process that is “up to Giffords … and we have to play according to her timeline … she’ll take this recovery at her own pace. She has no right to look this good, but she does. We have to be extremely patient.”

Three other patients from Saturday’s shooting are still in serious condition and two are still in fair condition, the doctors said. One patient is currently undergoing surgery, and another had surgery earlier today.

Additional surgeries are planned for the rest of the week, but all the patients are progressing.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.