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Mind and Body

Doctor: Gabrielle Giffords Could Return to Congress

This, most recent photo of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords since she was shot, was posted to her public Facebook page by her aides. The woman in the background is her mother Gloria Giffords. The photo was taken May 17, 2011 at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital, the day after the launch of Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty.Giffords could be released from a rehabilitation hospital in Houston sometime this month, a top aide says, offering the latest indication that the Arizona congresswoman is making progress in recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. (AP/Giffords Campaign)AP2011

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has come a long way since Jan. 8—the day she was shot in the head by Jared Loughner at an Arizona supermarket where she was speaking.

Her recovery has been nothing short of remarkable, and she has impressed doctors from the beginning. One neurosurgeon said Giffords could certainly return to a career in politics one day—but when that day is still remains unknown.

Dr. Raj Narayan, chariman of the Department of Neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., told FoxNews.com that although her ability to return to Congress is still unknown, it is a definite possibility.

“Without actually examining her it is difficult to tell, but I would think that she would be able to return. She clearly still has deficits, so it will be more challenging for her to function in a full-time capacity, but she has certainly come a long way,” Narayan said. “We need to understand like any person with a disability, it is going to be more challenging for her.”

Early on, even after her initial surgeries, Giffords started to make medical strides, unusual for victims of gunshot wounds to the head.

Within a few days of the shooting, Giffords was responding to simple commands and breathing on her own. She left the Arizona hospital just 18 days later on Jan. 26 to begin rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston, Texas.

By March, she was walking and talking—aware of the fact that she had been shot—but her sunny personality was shining through. She even attended her husband’s space shuttle launch in Florida on May 16, just over four months after the attempted assassination. Later that month, Giffords underwent surgery to repair the damage to her skull. Doctors put a plastic implant in place to fully cover her brain, according to a statement from TIRR Memorial.

On June 15, Giffords was released from the rehabilitation hospital, indicating she had made enough progress to move back into her League City, Ariz., home with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. However, the congresswoman does receive 24-hour help from a home care assistant, and she still participates in speech, music, physical and occupational therapy.

Narayan said this type of therapy is typical for someone with Giffords’ condition.

“Typically the most intensive therapy would be in the first three to six months. Then after that it is usually a lot more focused therapy such as speech therapy or physical or occupational for a particular weakness or function,” he said.

According to Giffords’ doctors, she still struggles to speak and walk. Right now there is still no way of knowing how long she will require therapy. Narayan said in many cases it lasts years, but emphasizes that the next few months of slower recovery could be more difficult for Giffords’ than it was immediately after the accident.

“The recovery is most rapid in the first few months, then the rate of recovery tends to slow down—which can make patients distraught,” he said.

“ All the attention and hoopla and coverage slows down, and she will have more time to kind of contemplate what has happened to her. Emotionally this is probably the most difficult time—she has to figure out what she is going to do.”

Narayan said Giffords was fortunate with the bullet’s trajectory—a few degrees’ difference and it would’ve ended her life, or given her a more severe injury.

In the long run, Narayan said Giffords’ just needs to focus on recovery, and only time will tell how much of her previous lifestyle she can get back.

“She has received the best treatment possible and best surgery possible. She got the best care possible and now she just has to continue to work on getting better and stronger and deal with whatever disabilities she may have,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.