Nine days after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is once again able to smile, doctors reported Monday, but the three-term representative could find herself out of the US House, thanks to a little-used Arizona regulation.
According to a state statute unearthed by the Washington Post, a House representative is deemed to have "vacated" their office if the person holding that office ceases "to discharge the duties of office for the period of three consecutive months."
If Giffords is found to have "vacated" her office, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is required under state law to call a special election to replace the representative.
Even though doctors appear stunned at the pace of Giffords' recovery, saying that she may leave hospital in "a matter of days to weeks," it's unlikely she would be able to resume the full duties of her office within 90 days of the shooting.
As the Post reports, it's not entirely clear from the statute's wording what would be defined as failing to "discharge the duties of office" -- whether, for instance, not voting in the House for three months would meet the requirement.
But individuals close to Gov. Brewer -- who was made aware of the statute on Monday -- suggested the Republican would not look to replace Giffords in a special election.
"We've deemed it to be far too early and entirely inappropriate to speculate, analyze, consider," deputy chief of staff Paul Senseman stated.
Brewer adviser Jay Heiler suggested it would be "unimaginable" that an election would be held to replace Giffords, suggesting instead that the governor may act to change the statute "to allow Giffords a longer period for recovery," according to the Post.
Giffords was upgraded to "serious" from "critical" over the weekend. Her ability to smile "implies she is recognizing him and that she's interacting perhaps with a more familiar way with him," said Michael Lemole, the neurosurgeon treating her at the University Medical Center in Tucson.
He added that the 40-year-old lawmaker had reawakened after the surgery to remove bone fragments from her eye socket and was "at the same baseline" as before the procedure.
"At this time, we're hoping to continue tying up loose ends to get ready for the third stage of Giffords's recovery, rehabilitation," Lemole said.
Giffords's husband Mark Kelly, a NASA space shuttle astronaut, meanwhile said in a television interview with ABC News that she had improved to the point of giving him a back rub.
"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," he said. "I just stayed there because it seemed to comfort her."
He admitted, however that she has a "long road ahead of her."
"We know that the recovery from these kind of injuries isn't measured in days and weeks. It's more like weeks and months. And so she's got a long, tough road ahead of her. But, you know, she's a really, really tough woman."
Kelly also said he would be willing to meet with the parents of 22-year-old Jared Loughner, a troubled loner who has been charged in the shooting spree, which killed six people and wounded more than a dozen.
-- With a report from AFP