U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has surmounted one hurdle after another since she was gravely wounded in the Arizona shootings. Her latest was especially significant — a condition upgrade from critical to serious.
Her doctors’ decision Sunday was yet another sign of a remarkable recovery since she was shot in the head Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire as she met constituents in a Tucson supermarket parking lot. Six people were killed and 13 were wounded, including the congresswoman.
Giffords is now able to move around well enough that she gave Kelly a back rub from her hospital bed, he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an interview that will air Tuesday.
“(It is) so typical of her. She’s in the ICU. You know, gone through this traumatic injury. And she spent 10 minutes giving me a neck massage,” Kelly explained. “I keep tellin’ her. I’m like, ‘Gabby, you’re in the ICU. You know, you don’t need — you know, you don’t need to be doin’ this.’ But it’s so typical of her that no matter how bad the situation might be for her, you know, she’s lookin’ out for other people.”
The gesture seemed to comfort Giffords and shows that his wife is improving and that her spirit and their personal bond remain strong, he said.
Kelly also said he would be willing to meet with the parents of suspect Jared Loughner. Kelly, who has two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, said they have to be hurting.
Giffords had been in critical condition since the attack but doctors were positive, and at times almost giddy, in describing her progress.
She responded from the moment she arrived at the emergency room, at first just squeezing a doctor’s hand. Then she raised two fingers.
Giffords opened her unbandaged eye shortly after President Barack Obama’s bedside visit Wednesday.
Then, more milestones — which doctors said were all indicative of higher cognitive function — were achieved, all with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at her side.
Kelly asked her to give him a thumbs-up if she could hear him. She did more than that. She slowly raised her left arm. By the end of the week, she had moved her legs and arms.
Finally on Sunday, doctors decided to upgrade her condition because a tracheotomy done a day earlier was uneventful, hospital spokeswoman Katie Riley said. A feeding tube was also put in Saturday, and doctors speculated that they might soon know if she could speak.
At the hospital, more than 100 people were gathered amid the sea of get-well balloons and cards when the University of Arizona put out the condition statement.
“Oh, that’s great news,” said Jean Emrick, a 50-year resident of Tucson, as a violinist played in the background.
Her eyes watering, Emrick said: “Tucson is such a special place and she represents what’s the best of southern Arizona.”
As night fell, candles at the makeshift memorial began to flicker. A mariachi band played the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Few people survive a bullet to the brain — just 10 percent — and some who do end up in a vegetative state. It is even more rare for people with gunshot wounds to the head to regain all of their abilities, and doctors have cautioned that the full extent of Giffords’ recovery remains uncertain.
Among those killed was Giffords’ popular community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman.
At funeral services for Zimmerman Sunday, Kelly told the some 700 people gathered that his wife was inspired by Zimmerman’s idealism and warmth, according to the Arizona Republic.
“Gabby and I spoke often about Gabe. She loved him like a younger brother,” Kelly said. “I know someday she’ll get to tell you herself how she felt about Gabe.”
The funeral followed others, including one for the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green last week.
Her father, John Green, told The Boston Globe some of her organs were donated to a young girl in the Boston area, but he didn’t have any other details.
He said they were once again proud of their daughter, “who has done another amazing thing.”
Meanwhile, more details emerged Monday about one of shooting victims who became distraught and was arrested during a televised town hall meeting.
James Eric Fuller, a military veteran and self-described liberal, started ranting at the end of the program Saturday. He took a picture of Tucson tea party leader Trent Humphries and yelled “you’re dead.”
Fuller apologized Monday through his girlfriend, Dorothy Deruyter. Fuller has been in a hospital since being involuntarily committed Saturday for a mental health evaluation but wrote a statement and called Deruyter, who read it to The Associated Press on Monday.
Fuller apologized to Humphries for his “misplaced outrage.”
“It was not in the spirit of our allegiance and warm feelings of each other as citizens of this great country,” Fuller said in the statement.
Deruyter told The Associated Press that Fuller sounded on the phone like he was doing well but not quite like himself.
“He sounded very, very remorseful for one thing,” she said. “He wasn’t his buoyant personality but he wasn’t angry either, and he realizes it was an inappropriate statement.”
Deruyter said Fuller has no family or children, and was coping with the shooting almost entirely on his own and lost his temper at the town hall.
In media interviews and on the Internet, Fuller, a former limousine driver and Census worker, has said he worked hard to get Giffords re-elected in her conservative-leaning district.
He was shot in the knee and back and drove himself to the hospital, where he spent two days.
On Friday, he showed up at the home of Loughner, who lived within a half-mile of Fuller.
“He said he was going to forgive him for shooting him,” Richard Elder, 86, a retired medical mechanic who lives next door to Fuller, told The Associated Press Sunday. “If anyone shot me, I don’t think I’d say, ‘Hey feller, that’s all right.’”
Humphries, the man Fuller is accused of threatening, said he was worried about the threat, and the dozens of other angry e-mails he has received.
“I had nothing to do with the murders that happened or the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords,” said Humphries, who was on his way Sunday to attend services for his friend Dorwan Stoddard, 76. “And I wonder, if he (Fuller) is crazy or is he the canary in a coal mine? Is he saying what a lot of other people are holding in their hearts? If so, that’s a problem.”
Susan Montoya Bryan contributed from Tucson. Christie reported from Phoenix.