Two people with knowledge of Giffords’ care told The Associated Press the Arizona Democrat would go into surgery on Wednesday, just two days after she returned from Cape Canaveral, Fla., where she watched from a rooftop as her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, launched into space as commander of space shuttle Endeavour.
Doctors will put the hard plastic implant under Giffords’ scalp, finally sealing a hole that was opened after she was shot in January. Doctors had cut out the piece of skull to give her brain room to swell.
“It’s a very significant milestone in the recovery,” Dr. Robert Friedlander, chair of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
And Giffords’ survival and recovery have already been viewed as miraculous by many. Six people were killed on Jan. 8 and 12 others were wounded when a would-be assassin opened fire at a political event in Tucson, Ariz.
The implant — or bone flap as doctors call it — will provide the brain and the skull with protection, Friedlander said. It will allow Giffords to walk freely without her helmet, adorned with the Arizona state flag, for the first time since she began therapy at Houston’s TIRR Memorial Hermann in late January.
In addition, it makes therapy easier because the helmet can be uncomfortable and cumbersome, Friedlander said.
Dr. Reid Thompson, chairman of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said there is also an important psychological element to removing the helmet.
“They look in the mirror and they don’t see someone who’s been injured or shot. They look normal,” Thompson said.