WASHINGTON — Astronaut Mark Kelly says his wife, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, has been cleared to attend his space shuttle launch after recovering steadily from a brain injury sustained in a shooting.
The Democratic lawmaker was shot once through the head during a January 8 shooting rampage that killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, at an outdoor meeting she was hosting in Tuscon, Arizona.
Giffords was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas, in late January.
“I’ve met with her doctors, her neurosurgeon and her doctors. And… they’ve given us permission to take her down to the launch,” NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, the congresswoman’s husband, told “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”
“I’m excited about that.”
CBS released excerpts of the interview on Sunday and will broadcast it on Monday.
Asked about his wife’s reaction to the news, Kelly responded: “she said ‘awesome’ and pumped her fist.”
Giffords is recovering from a bullet that tore through her brain’s left hemisphere, which controls speech and movement for the right side of the body.
“Her personality’s a hundred percent there. You know, it’s difficult for her to walk. The communication skills are difficult, at this point,” said Kelly, adding that his wife was “100 percent” herself.
Kelly is the commander of the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission, scheduled to launch Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“I can’t say I notice improvement every day, but I can every few days,” he told The Arizona Republic in an article published Sunday.
Giffords has said she wants to attend the launch, and Dong Kim, the Memorial Hermann neurosurgeon who oversees Giffords’s care, indicated her wish will be granted.
“We’re very comfortable with her traveling,” he told the newspaper.
Kim said Giffords “is maybe in the top one percent of patients in terms of how far she’s come, and how quickly she’s gotten there. I think the question, then, becomes, how far is she going to go?”
Surgery is scheduled in May to repair a section of her skull with a cranial implant. Surgeons in Tucson tried to preserve the portion they removed but it is now infected.
The congresswoman is rehabilitating her right arm and leg through therapy that includes pushing a grocery cart, playing indoor golf and bowling, according to the Republic.
She can stand on her own and walk a bit, but use of her right leg is still improving. She is learning to write with her left hand.
“Her left side is perfect,” said chief of staff Pia Carusone. “She can do whatever you can do.”
Giffords is aware that she was shot but hasn’t been told that the shooting victims included her friends and colleagues.
“The challenge is she knows what she wants to say, and she knows everything that’s going on around her,” Carusone said, but can’t always express it. “It’s frustrating for her. She’ll sigh out of exasperation.”
Alleged gunman Jared Loughner has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
The congresswoman’s parents, Gloria and Spencer, have rarely left their daughter since she was shot, according to the newspaper.
Friends and staff have covered the walls of her room with poster-sized photos of joyous events such as her wedding and hiking in the Grand Canyon. She remembers the events, which doctors say is a good sign.
“I want to work,” she tells her visiting staffers, who bring her articles and office memos about their work.
Yet is if far from clear at this point if or when Giffords might be able to consider work options.
“It is unfair to set expectations on her in any way,” Carusone added in the Republic report. “Would a triumphant return be amazing? Yes. But first of all, her close friends and family will take anything.”
Her husband visits in the morning, bringing coffee and the newspaper, before going to work at NASA. He returns at night. The newspaper said Kelly sometimes naps with his wife in her twin-size hospital bed.
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