Gabrielle Giffords’ Remarkable Recovery

Gabrielle Giffords’ Remarkable RecoveryGabrielle Giffords continues to amaze us with her astounding recovery. Just six months after a skull-shattering bullet to the head, she has undergone surgery to replace removed portions of her skull. Giffords spends six hours each day in rehab relearning the skills many of us take for granted.

Giffords’ Cranioplasty

On May 18, 2011, surgeons performed a cranioplasty on Giffords, placing an artificial implant in her skull to cover the portions of bone that were lost after the shooting. The bullet shattered Giffords’ cranial bone, so doctors could not reuse the original portions removed just after the shooting. Computers calculated the shape of the plastic implant to match the missing part of Giffords’ skull.[1]

Protective Helmet Impedes Recovery

Without this two-hour operation, Giffords would continue wearing a special helmet that protected the exposed portion of her brain. Such a helmet can impede physical therapy and slow the recovery process, so doctors believed the time was right to remove it.

This type of helmet also tends to make patients feel uncomfortable about their appearance. By removing the need for a helmet, surgeons will hasten the recovery process while boosting Giffords’ confidence. For the first time since the shooting, she will look like herself again.

Bullet Fragments Remain

Although some metal fragments remain from the bullet, doctors will leave them rather than risk further injury.  The biggest concern now is preventing infection after the surgery. Congresswoman Giffords is recovering at TIRR Memorial Hermann Center in Houston, Texas.

Shunt Improves Outcomes

During the surgery, doctors also placed a permanent shunt to allow additional cerebrospinal fluid drainage. The discreet device allows excess fluid to drain from the brain into the abdomen. Chief of Rehabilitation Gerard Francisco commented, “She is recovering very nicely.” Dr. Francisco explained that patients who receive a shunt tend to recover more quickly because they experience less pressure from excess fluid in the brain. Relieving the pressure helps patients perform precision tasks that would otherwise be much more difficult. He predicts, “We are going to see a lot of positive changes.”[2]

Giffords Will Return to Rehabilitation Soon

Dong Kim is the Director of Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-TMC. Although Giffords experienced pain and nausea following the surgery, he expects her to return to her normal rehabilitation schedule within a few days. Her schedule includes speech, physical and occupational therapy beginning at 8 a.m. and lasting six hours.


Dr. Kim reflected on Gifford’s amazing recovery, saying, “For a person to come this far after the injury she had is almost miraculous.” We could not agree more.

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