Houston – An aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said Saturday that she could be released from a rehabilitation hospital in Houston as early as this month, offering the latest indication that the Arizona congresswoman is making progress in recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.
Chief of Staff Pia Carusone told The Associated Press that doctors and family are considering "many factors" while making the critical next-step decision to release Giffords from TIRR Memorial Hermann, the hospital where she has been undergoing intensive daily rehabilitation since late January.
"We're looking at before the end of the month. We're looking at early July," Carusone said. "We don't have a date."
Giffords arrived in Houston just weeks after being shot on Jan. 8 while she was at a meet-and-greet with constituents in her home district of Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed and a dozen others wounded in the attack outside a supermarket.
While Giffords release from the hospital after five months of intensive inpatient therapy is an important step in her recovery, she will still have to undergo months of outpatient rehabilitation, which will include speech, occupational and physical therapy. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, has indicated she will begin her outpatient therapy in Houston.
Giffords has made remarkable progress that has been described by neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim as "almost miraculous." Doctors were initially amazed that the congresswoman survived the shooting -- only 10 percent of people shot in the head live and many who do remain in a vegetative state. Within days, she was able to move both arms and respond to family and friends.
Since coming to Houston, Giffords has regained some ability to walk and talk. The only image of her since the shooting was seen in late April, when television cameras shot blurry footage of her ascending a flight of steps to a NASA jet that was taking her to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch her husband rocket into space.
That mission was delayed until May, and after Giffords returned from a second trip to Florida -- where she watched the launch while sitting in a wheelchair -- she underwent surgery to replace a portion of her skull that was removed immediately after the shooting to give her brain room to swell.
After the surgery, doctors told the media Giffords was walking better than was seen in the flurry footage from late April and that her speech was continuously improving.
But Carusone made clear in a recent interview with The Arizona Republic that her boss still had difficulty stringing together sentences and it remained unclear if -- or when -- she would be able to resume her Congressional duties.