Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has spent the last 2 1/2 months in rehabilitation learning how to speak again, walk and care for herself – but when will she be able to go home?
It’s a question that her therapists at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston are carefully tracking. Experts say they expect her medical team to make that call in the coming weeks because Giffords is at the point in her therapy where doctors typically make such decisions about transitioning brain injury patients into outpatient care.
"I would expect a release in mid-April, right around the 10 weeks," said Dr. Steve Williams, chairman of rehabilitative medicine at Boston University.
The decision many are waiting for is whether Giffords will be able to travel to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, command the space shuttle Endeavour's last flight in late April. Some are also wondering if she'll recover to run for office again and challenge for an open Senate seat in Arizona in 2012.
Last month, doctors said Giffords was making "leaps and bounds" in her recovery as she speaks more and more every day and walks with assistance. They said there was a good chance she could attend the launch, but insisted no final decision had been reached.
But even after an outpatient program is complete, patients have a long and rigorous road ahead of them. Sometimes, they can be sent back to the outpatient clinic a year or more after the injury if their doctor feels they could still improve.
"Traumatic brain injury doesn't get better overnight. It's a progression," said Sandra Lloyd, director of TIRR's outpatient facility. "And it will continue at home for years and years."
Giffords was shot in the head on Jan. 8 during an appearance outside a supermarket in Arizona.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.