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November 15th, 2011
05:20 PM ET

Gabrielle Giffords improving 'by leaps and bounds'

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

Looking back over the past nine months, Gabrielle Giffords’ neurosurgeon remembers several high points in his patient’s recovery – and the most recent one involves his suit and tie.

“I usually wear scrubs to my appointment with her, but one day I wore a suit instead, and she looked at me and said, ‘Wow, you have a suit on today. What’s with the necktie?’” remembers Dr. Dong Kim.

“She really gave me grief with great fluidity,” he says, laughing. “It was such a great moment that we could interact at that level and hang out and talk.”

Speech is Giffords’ biggest challenge right now, says Kim, director of the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. She has expressive aphasia, which means she knows what she wants to say but often has trouble finding the right words, whether she’s speaking or writing.

“We all have times where we can’t remember someone’s name, or we see something and we just can’t think of the word. Imagine what that’s like when it’s happening 80% of the time,” he says.

Kim says her speech has improved by “leaps and bounds” during the nearly nine months that Giffords has been his patient

Watch: Gabby Giffords' road to recovery

“In the old days, if she was hungry, she would point to her tummy,” he says. “Now she can say ‘I’m hungry.’ She might not be able to say ‘Gosh, I really feel like having a hamburger right now,’ but she can definitely get the sentiment out.”

Kim says he expects her speech to improve for about an additional two to four years.

“She’s nowhere near a plateau right now,” he says.

He adds that he thinks she could return to Congress at some point in the future.

“I expect her to be speaking really well at some point, given the progress she’s made,” he says. “It may be different speech than what she had before [the gunshot wound] but it will be very effective speech.”

Physically, patients do tend to plateau at about a year. Giffords’ gunshot wound was on the left side of her brain, and Kim says her left arm and leg are fine. Her right leg is weak, and her right arm is weak, too, but less so than her leg.

Even with that weakness, she’s able to walk and get up from a chair on her own. Now she’s learning how to do everything with her left hand.

“Mobility is not going to be a big deficit for her,” he says.


soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. S. Brown

    So when is the brain surgery on Loughner going to be carried out?

    November 15, 2011 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      What he needs is brain surgery with a bullet.

      November 15, 2011 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
    • Harvey

      Loughner needs a lobotomy, but there is nothing there to lobot.

      November 15, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse |
    • PuppetOne was Red

      Reality check – she should NOT BE IN CONGRE$SS$$S$S$

      November 15, 2011 at 20:37 | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      @ Puppet: Why not? Her cognitive skills have not been impaired. She is no less intelligent than she was, and Gabby Giffords was always pretty sharp. When she feels she can return to her political work, she will. Did you know that she has never lost an election?

      November 15, 2011 at 20:50 | Report abuse |
  2. Carolyn Wright

    Nothing pleases me more than to see the progress Congresswoman Gifford has made. I continue to pray God's miracle upon her.

    November 15, 2011 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grumpster

      Yeah....all that hard work he did...not the doctors and herself.

      November 15, 2011 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
    • Me

      And where was his miracle for the people that didn't survive? Where was his miracle in healing Loughner so he wasn't crazy and wouldn't shoot them all to begin with? Get real.

      November 15, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
    • escher7

      Yes Grumster and Me, He makes mistakes. After all he let you two be born.

      November 15, 2011 at 19:57 | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      I've always found atheist anger at believers to be strange. Even with your best explanation you're basically getting angry at someone because you think they shouldn't believe something. The words she stated did no one any harm at all. Relax.

      I'm an agnostic leaning atheist, if you're wondering.

      November 15, 2011 at 22:16 | Report abuse |
  3. Generical

    Poor woman. In her prime, and then Loughner commits such a senseless act. It was heartbreaking watching her try to tell the interviewer she wanted to get better, because she just couldn't find the words. I hope she continues to make a huge recovery.

    November 15, 2011 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Afell

      This woman has yet to reach her prime. Every day from here forward is a miracle, for both her and for the rest of us in this nation. Her best years are still ahead of her, with her family around her, especially now that it has grown to encompass the entire nation.

      November 15, 2011 at 18:07 | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    God Bless you Gabby! You're doing Awesome!

    November 15, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ANN

    What a Gracious lady. She is so strong to fight back from what I thought would be the end. I'm So proud of her. 🙂

    November 15, 2011 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 2cents

      She still needs to be removed or replaced in Congress. She can't perform her job

      November 16, 2011 at 08:46 | Report abuse |
  6. Inspiration

    Such a great example...loved seeing this couple so united through this. I do believe this lady is going to make it all the way! Fantastic!

    November 15, 2011 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Joe

    She's great, and I hope the voters give her a chance.

    November 15, 2011 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Freedom For 28th avenue!

      Wha...wha...wha...WHAT??? Don't you think even casually that the government is supposed to be working for us??

      November 15, 2011 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • 2cents

      Why we have enough elected officials with holes in their heads (No pun intended)

      November 16, 2011 at 08:47 | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    What a remarkable woman!Such an insperation.

    November 15, 2011 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mitch H

    Loughner deserves the death penalty.

    November 15, 2011 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RoyalsGal

      Mitch – the death penalty....really? He is mentally ill. He no more deserves the death penalty than someone who has an epilleptic seizure while driving and kills someone. He needs help.

      November 17, 2011 at 14:16 | Report abuse |
  10. us1776

    Keep going Gabby !!

    We love you.

    .

    November 15, 2011 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Laurie

    yeah yeah yeah, everyone is happy that this member of Congress who has free health care paid by tax dollars is making such a great recovery. Unfortunately, there many other people with simular injuries that have not been able to afford physical therapy 7 days a week for hours at a time, because their insurance won't pay for it. Everytime I see Gifford in the news I think of an article about her and another patient, who was injured before her, younger than her, had limited resources, and was much further behind in his recovery because he couldn't afford the care. To me, that's the real story.

    November 15, 2011 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • christey123

      Actually, Laurie, when non-Congressional employees get injured on the job, they too qualify for health care through workman's comp. But you certainly are a kindhearted person.

      November 15, 2011 at 19:32 | Report abuse |
    • Baltic Sea Inc

      Way to go Laurie!!

      November 15, 2011 at 20:42 | Report abuse |
    • iba mamba

      all you people saying christey123 is a moron, need to, a, well, you know...

      November 15, 2011 at 20:44 | Report abuse |
    • christey123

      Instead of complaining about healthcare that members of Congress receive, you can better spend your valuable time trying to agitate for better health care for ALL Americans. The problem is not that some people get good coverage, but that others get little or none. But it's more fun to bash a woman who survived a gunshot to the head, I suppose.

      November 15, 2011 at 21:14 | Report abuse |
    • midnitejax

      My sentiments exactly...read my post further down the line

      November 15, 2011 at 21:44 | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      Laurie,

      You are right about that. I spent five months in in-patient rehab because my insurance paid, but many of my co-patients were discharged either to nursing homes or their own homes because their insurance quite paying. What a shame.

      November 15, 2011 at 21:52 | Report abuse |
    • Georgiacat

      Members of Congress do not get free health care. They're part of the federal employee health plan. It's basically like any other health plan you get through your work if you work for a large corporation. Nor do they get full pay at retirement, which is another popular misconception. http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/health-care-for-members-of-congress/

      November 15, 2011 at 22:17 | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Yes, it's too bad that the medical you get here depends on the size of your wallet, but I'll bet you're against having it any other way...because, well, that would be what, a socialist plot?

      November 15, 2011 at 22:33 | Report abuse |
  12. Jack Listner

    ENOUGH ALREADY do we have to be subjected to a daily report on Gifford's "progress" ?
    She's on the road to recovery-we get it now let's all move on.

    November 15, 2011 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hold on

      Not so fast. Wait 'til you hear how she's doing tomorrow.

      November 15, 2011 at 20:24 | Report abuse |
  13. &

    IMO, this was not some random act of violence. I find it peculiar that the Feds are trying to sedate and muzzle Loughner. The liberal media exploited this tragedy for what it's worth, then Obama suddenly shows up in the quaint city of Tucson.

    November 15, 2011 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. heidi

    She will never recover to the level necessary for Congressional work again.
    Sad, but true.
    Hope this is a lesson for others who want to join the big game of politics.

    November 15, 2011 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liondance

      Sorry Heidi, your first sentence may well turn out to be the case. I certainly agree it's sad.
      But what's the lesson here, according to you, for people who want to enter politics?
      Is it that they should live in fear of lunatics, extremists, etc., shooting at them?
      If we let this incident become a symbol of intimidation, we don't deserve good representation.
      What makes this even more sad is that Ms. Giffords is the kind of moderate voice we need the most now.

      November 15, 2011 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • BoFo

      I watched the interview and, while my heart goes out to this woman and her family, it will likely be a long, long time before she is able to function as a member of Congress.

      November 15, 2011 at 22:16 | Report abuse |
  15. escher7

    More balls than most men.

    November 15, 2011 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. escher7

    Right "George". Go back under your rock.

    November 15, 2011 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. TXGal

    christy123, you are very ignorant if you believe the usual coverage of workman's comp would even nearly cover anything comparable to the care that Giffords is receiving...maybe a small fraction. It is true that we have to recognize that her situation is the exception and not the norm.

    November 15, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • christey123

      Oh, TXGal, are you a workman's comp expert?

      November 15, 2011 at 20:09 | Report abuse |
    • Techiewitch

      Considering how crappy TX work comp system is that maybe true, but TXGal you come off ignorant commenting on other states. Unless you consider yourself and expert, which I think not!

      November 15, 2011 at 20:27 | Report abuse |
    • WAFERS for all

      Let me guess...christey123 is running for congress.....of dufus -ville

      November 15, 2011 at 20:47 | Report abuse |
    • christey123

      At least my name isn't "WAFERS for all" you loser.

      November 15, 2011 at 21:09 | Report abuse |
  18. YourMom

    If someone is unable to leap or bound, I think it's a little cruel to mention that in describing their recovery.

    November 15, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Ohio Lawyer

    Gabbie Gifford is a sharp, very classy lady who deserves a lot of respect. I wish her all the very best in her recovery and hope/pray for her early return to Congress. That will be the ultimate revenge on the (expletive NOT deleted) "perp" who will spend the rest of his foreseeable future in jail.

    I'm glad she doesn't live near me in Ohio. After all, i'm a Republican, and if she did our local congressman (good guy btw) might have some serious problems in the next election!

    November 15, 2011 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Ben

    Gabby is my congressperson and I am glad she is getting better, but in the mean time who is representing me in DC? The local dems around here don't like us asking that question.

    November 15, 2011 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • StevenE

      Ben, I hate to tell you this, but Gabby's vote in the house doesn't really count right now. The majority leader has an 'R' next to his name, and is dead set against anything the 'D's favor. Take heart. If you have watched all the ABC video that has been recently released, you can see that she has the cognition, just not the words. She'll be back, stronger than ever.

      November 15, 2011 at 22:41 | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      @StevenE, I'm not saying that I'm a dem or even voted for her ( I didn't ), I just want someone working for me in congress. Regardless of how your congressperson votes at least they are there. Her staff and the local dems have been downright mean to anyone trying to represent the local people or plan for a time after Gabby.

      November 16, 2011 at 23:55 | Report abuse |
  21. Lyn

    Nothing here about guns and how a mentally ill person was able to get hold of one so easily...and so we move on to the next time when another person's life is interrupted or lost because of a gun. And again, and again, and again. Oh well. Didn't Gifford once say that she had a gun and she was a pretty good shot? But it didn't do her any good. All my sympathy to her and her loved ones by the way. Is there any chance that when she makes it to Congress that she could fight to change the gun laws so this happens less often? Don't bother making any snide replies, I just dropped in.

    November 15, 2011 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. John Smith

    This is a sad story indeed, but at least Loughner is treasurer of his own currency.

    November 15, 2011 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And that means what, exactly?

      November 15, 2011 at 22:32 | Report abuse |
  23. Robmel9880

    This is all fine and wonderful about the giffords. What about the rest of the families that were affected by the shootings. What about the little girl, who will never grow up, never get to do the things that a teenager would do, never have a wedding. We forget about those, because they are not important to the story. But yet, a congress woman gets shot in the head, and recovers due to her access to better medical care, then the rest of the country can get, with our current insurance plans and we are suppose to fawn all over her. Give me a break.

    For those that you say that you can get the same care under workers comp, you are dreaming. Worker's comp, imposes limits on treatments, which doctors you can see, etc. It is not the same type of insurance at all. Heck even private insurance can impose limitations to treatment.

    November 15, 2011 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • midnitejax

      Most GOP run states have made it all but impossible to get workman's comp. An injured worker must now hire an attorney to represent them..if they can afford one right?

      November 15, 2011 at 21:46 | Report abuse |
  24. midnitejax

    I am so sick of hearing about the great Giffords miracle, it makes me physically ill. She is getting nothing but the very best of medical care on OUR dime. How many of us have had a dying relative who needed the very best care, but couldn't get it becuase of limitations on the insurance or costs? She belongs to the very party that denied health care for all Americans. She enjoys the most extensive health care money can buy, and we are buying it for her.

    November 15, 2011 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ron

      It makes you physically ill?

      November 16, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse |
  25. huxley

    Doesn't take all that many brains to serve in Congress.

    November 15, 2011 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. WIL Marshall

    LIFE IS NOT FAIR. Some live... others die. Some have the TaxPayer Gold Card Ins becuse we elected them... If you are Joe Citizen... and you are not employed... you most likely are a have not. If you are not happy man up get some backbone and make a run for office. Gifford was working the American Political Process. It is disturbing that her district is without representation... that it is not clearly articulated. But it is not a suprise... LIFE... NOT FAIR.

    November 15, 2011 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Stymie

    Just because we don't all believe the same things is no cause to say one is right, the other is wrong. I can't prove the bible is a book of fables, I might be wrong. Can you prove her recovery isn't miraculous? Gabby Giffords has forgiven Loughner, she called it "life".

    November 16, 2011 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. AZ Res

    I’m still beyond shocked that no actions have been taken against Gov Janet Brewer after this tragic incident. I work with medical providers for the mentally ill population in Arizona and while I don’t dismiss the shooter's actions, Gov Janet Brewer drastically cut services for the mentally ill population & illegally placed the Arnold vs. Sarn lawsuit on hold, tried to get people on Court Order Treatment off it (if NT19), got rid of state monitoring (that ensured services were being competently carried out), cut case management services for all NT19 patients (including those on COT) & more. The fact that his college said that he could return to classes if he had doctor's note saying he wasn’t a danger to himself or others is indicative that he was strongly considered for COT. Those are actually the magic words for two out of the four reasons why people are placed on Court Ordered Treatment in Arizona. There were other places in the budget to make cuts without putting the Arizona population at risk. Also an overwhelming majority of people placed on COT don't want to be mandated in the first place and in Pima County it's a lot harder to get people placed on COT with services they desperately need because they have significantly less funding than Maricopa County. In addition to her suspending the Arnold vs. Sarn lawsuit Mar 9, 2010, on the same day SHE IMMEDIATELY PASSED A GUN LAW WITH LESS RESTRICTIONS. I strongly encourage everyone to look up the Arnold vs. Sarn lawsuit to fully educate themselves and pray news media outlets get a hold of this with hopes the behavioral health services for the mentally ill population in Arizona (ideally everywhere) are rightfully restored so a tragedy like this would be near impossible to occur again.

    November 16, 2011 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. 2cents

    Why is she still in Congress? Its obvious she can't perform her duties as an elected official. It's time to put her on disability and move on! I'm sorry, but she got hurt on the job. It's no different than a police officer getting shot, fire fighter getting hurt, or military personal taking one for the team.

    Hey st least still alive and her friends and family can enjoy her company for years to come, others aren't that lucky.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. TAK

    Most politicians talk a lot but say little. Rep. Giffords can't talk much anymore but she speaks volumes.

    November 16, 2011 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. palintwit

    Loughner keeps an autographed copy of Sarah Palin's famous "crosshairs" poster on the wall of his cell.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Courtney Biles

    According to Giffords doctors and CNN reports, her cognitive skills are intact. It is just her ability to fully express herself and string complete sentences that is strained. So I asked myself, how could the use of sign-language better enable her communication? What about using a computer to type or a touch screen to write on? Just a thought.

    November 16, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. cyberCMDR

    OK, she has brain damage. That puts her on a par with most of the GOP representatives in Congress. The difference is, she's getting better!

    November 16, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Ron

    Mrs. Giffords has irreversible brain damage just like every other person who has bee shot in that area of the head.
    She will never be able to return to work as capable as she was before the shooting. It's simply a matter of either accepting
    her with a somewhat diminished mental capacity or not or not accepting her. I personally think it would be selfish on her
    part to ask the voters to let her continue .

    November 16, 2011 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Ron

    Sorry....to many "are not's"

    November 16, 2011 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Ron

    sorry again....my spelling needs work.

    November 16, 2011 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. dean r

    That doctor should not be using the term plateau, that is only used by HMOs and insurance companies to stop paying for therapy. By keeping working on problems there will always continue to be progress.

    November 16, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Mike

    I am happy for Ms Giffords as a human being and wish her continued success in her recovery.
    However, it is outrageous that the people of Arizona have been without competent representation since her injury. The second she was medically unfit for duty, she should have been replaced.
    Anything less says that our representative democracy is a sham and that it doesn't matter who districts send they are going to get the same supreme-soviet outcomes in any case.

    November 17, 2011 at 05:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. D.Jackson

    i am very happy to see that she is doing well in her efforts to get back to herself. i really hope that in the furture she can get back to helping Congress.

    November 17, 2011 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.